Until the mid to late 1900’s, people of color in the United States had little to no ability to fight against all of the many forms of oppression against them. The laws that were put in place were strictly written for whites in this country. It wasn’t until the late 1900’s that laws were put in place allowing people of color more freedoms. This meant that any of the whites in this country who still wanted a white supremacy had to resort to more hidden tactics to maintain that control. The allowance of racial profiling in multiple forms is reckless and increases the oppression that is already laid upon the marginalized and oppressed people in society. We must work towards breaking down this system.
The ACLU describes racial profiling as “law enforcement or private security targeting people of color for humiliating and often frightening detentions, interrogations, and searches without sufficient evidence of criminal activity and based on perceived race, ethnicity, natural origin, or religion.” The ACLU also points out that the act of racial profiling is grossly ineffective and alienates communities from law enforcement (ACLU). What many people may not understand is that racial profiling goes directly against the Fourteenth Amendment in the United States Constitution. In the Constitution, it specifically says that the state must treat an individual the same as they would someone else in a similar situation (Legal Information Institute).
In New York, a federal judge revoked their stop-and-frisk policy because of the violation of the previously mentioned 14th Amendment (Niiler). Even with laws put in place to prevent these acts, law officials consistently break them. Officers say that in order to fill in the void of lacking information, they often use stereotypes to establish a suspect. One of the common definitions of racial profiling is to rely solely on a person’s ethnicity or race in order to initiate contact with a potential suspect, rather than looking for certain criminal behaviors when limited information is given (Office of Public Safety). In New York, the controversial and oppressive stop and frisk is very commonly known of around the country. To stop and frisk was very common, but was not officially – or legally – implemented by law enforcement until the 1990’s (Naspretto). Before that, the stop and question was the tactic which was claimed to be used to stop just about anyone in the street and question them, only frisking if they were thought to have a weapon or probable cause that may lead to an arrest.
In 1994 though, stopping and frisking was a tactic used much more often, without real cause to do so. This was implemented when the computer system known as Compstat was established in order to show the statistics on crime data. This system showed a lowering of crime rates, but the crime rates were still very high when comparing the numbers and population (University of Maryland). In order to keep up with this system, police officials were encouraged to stop and frisk any and everybody, regardless of whether or not they were displaying criminalistics behavior. This is when, not only did racial profiling become standard police procedure, but it also was implemented all over the country when the numbers were shown.
The above information was officially released information on what police officers were and weren’t allowed to do in order to apprehend alleged suspects. Up until the late 50’s, people of color were the primary targets of stop and question. What many people claimed to have applied to any and everybody, people of color were often stopped and questioned. Then, new interrogation techniques were implemented as a way to claim lack of prejudice. They were asked for their identification, their employment status, and asked if they had a criminal record (Elkins).
What shows throughout history is that in the beginning, there was no fear of retaliation or legal discourse if law officials targeted the black community. The laws were quite vague and offered no protection at all for those who were wrongfully harassed, attacked, arrested, or killed by police officers. Then, as time – and laws – passed, law enforcement was left with no option but to formulate different legal agenda’s in order to justify the previous free-for-all.
Another form of racial profiling is a direct result to the so-called war on drugs. At the beginning of the 1970’s, President Nixon had initiated the calling for the “War on Drugs”. As some time passed, there was an attempt to decriminalize certain amounts of marijuana for personal use (Drug Policy Alliance). Unfortunately, when Reagan took office in 1981, the previous plan to focus on more hard drugs was eliminated, and every drug was now perceived as just as problematic. The amount of arrests increased drastically. The War on Drugs was now justifying the breaking up of black families everywhere and destroying futures for people of color, even for the slightest bit of marijuana on their person. The drastic difference in the amount of people of color in prison for drug charges in comparison to whites is undeniable, as the populations of white people are higher and white people use drugs at an equal level (NAACP).
Prior to this, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Gary Webb had reported on the controversial story of the CIA being involved in the trafficking of cocaine into the urban communities (Grim, Sledge and Ferner). Although Webb pointed out that their focus was not to destroy the black community (Levin), this most certainly resulted in the wrongful targeting of the black community by law enforcement officials. If government agencies were involved in funneling controlled substances into communities that wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain or afford said substances, then it is the government’s responsibility, it is their fault. This easily painted a target on the backs of people that were already oppressed, already harassed, already beaten, and were refused the same opportunities that their white counterparts would be able to easily obtain. The funneling of drugs into the urban communities may not have been a plot to destroy these neighborhoods, but it definitely provided ample excuse to demonize and criminalize people of color more than they already were, and legally be able to get away with it.
Another form of racial profiling is commonly referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline. The School-To-Prison Pipeline (STPP) refers to the different policies and practices that are implemented in schools to push students, particularly the at-risk children, out of the classes and into juvenile and criminal justice systems (Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund). This kind of implementation also allows officers that are now placed in school (typically ones that have mostly minorities in the classrooms) to use excessive force when there is no possible threat of violence from said students. The excessive use of physical force and overall heavy restrictions that are enforced more with people of color than whites often leads to these students avoiding class altogether, and possibly getting into trouble elsewhere. The lack of support from those that are supposed to guide, mentor, and protect outside of their home leads to a chaotic whirlwind (Teaching Tolerance). This is the epitome of the STPP.
In closing, the use of stop and frisk primarily with people of color, racial profiling by criminalizing black people far more than white people, and the school-to-prison pipeline has been proven by researchers and overall professionals everywhere to be a huge problem that needs to change. The use of racial profiling in all of these aspects are problematic. The fact is, people of color are being demonized everywhere, and there are justifications given frequently with little to no evidence supporting their excuses to continue to marginalize them. There needs to be a complete overhaul of the criminal justice and school systems, as far as their tactics in protecting, serving, and teaching.
“A Brief History of the Drug War.” A Brief History of the Drug War. Drug Policy Alliance, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.
“Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.” Criminal Justice Fact Sheet. NAACP, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.
Elkins, Alex. “Jacobin.” Jacobin The Origins of StopandFrisk Comments. N.p., 9 May 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.
“Equal Protection.” LII / Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.
Grim, Ryan, Matt Sledge, and Matt Ferner. “Key Figures In CIA-Crack Cocaine Scandal Begin To Come Forward.” Huff Post Politics. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.
Levin, Marc. “Gary Webb Was Right.” Huff Post Politics. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.
“Module One – Overview and History of Racial Profiling.” Public Safety and Security. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.
Niiler, Eric. “Racial Profiling: Why People Do It : DNews.” DNews. Discovery Communications, LLC, 15 Aug. 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.
“Racial Profiling.” American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU, n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
“School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. DREDF, 19 May 2015. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.
“What Is CompStat? – COMPSTAT.UMD.EDU.” What Is CompStat? – COMPSTAT.UMD.EDU. University of Maryland, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.
“What Is the School-to-Prison Pipeline?” American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU Foundation, n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.