Racial Profiling in the U.S.A.
According to a study prepared by the Institute on Race and Poverty of the University of Minnesota Law School, and entitled "Components of Racial Profiling Legislation," racial profiling is one of the most pressing civil rights of our time. Racial profiling negatively affects all persons of color of all generations and income levels. It undermines the legitimacy of the criminal justice system and hinders effective policing in the communities that need it the most.
"A Resource Guide on Racial Profiling Data Collection Systems," published by the U. S. Department of Justice defines racial profiling as "any police-initiated action that relies on the race, ethnicity or national origin rather than behavior of an individual or information that leads the police to a particular individual who has been identified as being, of having been, engaged in criminal activity."1
Racial profiling is present at traffic stops by police officers when the use of race or ethnicity is the decisive factor that makes the officer stop, question, search, or arrest someone.
Racial profiling has been monitored in a number of jurisdictions, and in nearly all of these jurisdictions, it was found to be a significant problem. For example, a 1996 study in Maryland found that while African Americans accounted for only 16.9 percent of the drivers on I-95, they constituted 72.9 percent of the drivers stopped and searched by the Maryland police.2
Racial profiling affects law-abiding citizens as well as offenders. Innocent persons of color are stopped, questioned, and searched for reasons that would not lead to stops of white drivers. People of color report stops based on minor equipment violations such as items hanging from rearview mirrors and even stops followed by inquiries such as, "whose car is this you're driving?" or "what are you doing in this neighborhood?"
Racial profiling not only subordinates the civil rights of entire communities to the goals of criminal justice, but it is an ineffective crime prevention tool that ultimately victimizes the very people that it is supposed to protect—the noncriminal public.
A 1999 Gallup poll found nationally 42 percent of African Americans believe that they have been stopped by police because of their race, 77 percent of African Americans believe racial profiling is widespread, and 87 percent disapprove of the practice. Similar answers have been received among persons from other races and ethnic background. The same poll showed that although only 6 percent of whites believed they had been stopped by police because of their race or ethnic background, 56 percent of whites believe racial profiling was widespread, and 80 percent disapproved of racial profiling.3
The widespread perception among people of color that they are unfairly targeted by the police because of their race or ethnic background has led to a lack of trust in the police. This mistrust harms both the police and communities of color, by impeding effective police work precisely within the communities of color that are the ones who need it the most. It is well known that people of color are more likely than whites to be victims of crime. However, mistrust of police hinders the cooperation that is needed between the communities and the police officers.
WHEREAS, racial profiling is an abhorrent manifestation of racism, and it is a painful and tragic reality in our lives, we call The United Methodist Church to:
See Social Principles, 162A.
1. Deborah Ramrez, Jack McDevitt, and Amy Farrel. "A Resource on Racial Profiling Data Collection Systems: Promising Practices and Lessons Learned," 3 (2000).
From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church — 2004. Copyright © 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.