In 2001 President George W. Bush declared that racial profiling was wrong and promised to “end it in America.” In 2003 his administration issued a limited ban on profiling that prohibited federal investigations based on race. The ban did not apply to national security, and federal agents were still permitted to conduct investigations based on religion and ancestry. Now, however, the Department of Justice is considering a ban on all federal investigations based on religion, ancestry, sexual orientation, or gender.
The proposed change was first reported in The New York Times on January 15 and confirmed by NBC News. It comes after years of complaints from civil rights groups about Latinos who were targeted in immigration cases and American Muslims subjected to terror investigations.
The change would be consistent with Attorney General Eric Holder’s longstanding dislike of profiling. “Racial profiling is wrong,” he said in a 2010 speech. “It can leave a lasting scar on communities and individuals. And it is, quite simply, bad policing—whatever city, whatever state.”
The Department of Justice, which has been examining its rules on profiling for years, has not yet confirmed the change, and its impact on state and local law enforcement is not yet clear. Also unknown is whether the national security loophole would be closed under the new policy.
Some civil rights leaders say the proposed changes could eventually trickle down to local practices. Ethnic groups in New York have long complained that they are victims of profiling. Muslim groups have sued the New York Police Department over surveillance programs that mapped Muslim neighborhoods, photographed their businesses, and built files on where they eat, shop, and pray.
“Federal guidelines definitely have an impact,” said Fahd Ahmed, the legal director of the Queens-based South Asian immigrant advocacy group Desis Rising Up and Moving. “Local organizers can say, ‘These policies are not in line with what’s coming from the federal level.’” Hina Shamsi, a national security lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, says, “Putting an end to this practice not only comports with the Constitution, it would put real teeth to the FBI’s claims that it wants better relationships with religious minorities.”
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Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of nine books, including Police Talk (Pearson), and she publishes a Police Writer Newsletter. Visit her website at www.YourPoliceWrite.com for free report writing resources. Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview of her book The Criminal Justice Report Writing Guide for Officers. Dr. Reynolds is the police report writing expert for Law Enforcement Today.