Published on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 by OneWorld.net
Racial Profiling Both Wrong and Counter-Productive, Says Amnesty
by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - The practice of racial profiling by U.S. law-enforcement agencies not only violates the human rights of its targets, according to a new report released here Monday by Amnesty International, but it is often counter-productive.
Released at the launch of a campaign against racial profiling, the 50-page report, 'Threat and Humiliation,' charges that the practice has actually grown since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon despite a pledge by President George W. Bush early in his tenure to end it. Amnesty is urging Congress to enact the End Racial Profiling Act of 2004 that has so far been endorsed by a bipartisan group of 140 lawmakers.
"The government's reliance on racial profiling has grown dramatically since the September 11th attacks," said Curt Goering, the senior deputy executive director of the U.S. section of Amnesty. "Amnesty International's review of existing data shows that an estimated 32 million Americans -- a number equivalent to the population of Canada -- have been subjected to profiling and that 87 million Americans -- almost one of every three people -- are at high risk for such abuse," he said.
Moreover, according to the report, the practice may be counter-productive, as the recent cases of the so-called "American Taliban," John Walker Lindh, and British "shoe bomber" Richard Reid illustrate. Neither individuals fit the profile used by programs like the National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS) and US-VISIT that target Arab, Muslim, and South Asian men and boys.
The report also points to the cases of Timothy McVeigh, who eluded arrest while law enforcement agencies searched for Arab suspects in the 1993 Oklahoma City federal building bombing, or as far back as 1901, when President William McKinley's assassin, a white man born in Michigan slipped past Secret Service agents who were on the lookout for a "dark complexioned man with a moustache."
Similarly, investigators lost valuable time in tracking down the "Washington sniper" responsible for a dozen shootings in 2002 in part because the two black men convicted of the attacks failed to fit the profile of a serial killer -- an anti-social white male.
"This is a practice that has actually impeded effective law enforcement for many years, as any competent and experienced law enforcement official will tell you," said retired federal Judge Timothy K. Lewis who chaired a series of hearings on racial profiling that took place under Amnesty's auspices in a number of U.S. cities over the past year.
"Obviously, focusing first and foremost, or worse, solely upon such characteristics ...as race, ethnicity, national origin or religion in deciding whom to investigate, arrest, and prosecute ...diverts attention from actual criminal behavior and from the actual perpetrator of a crime."
Cathy Harris, a former Customs Service official who in 1998 blew the whistle on abuses in profiling practices against African American and Hispanic women at border crossings, noted that the drug arrests by Customs increased by 300 percent when profiling ceased in the late 1990s. Since 9/11, however, she noted US Customs, now under the control of the Department of Homeland Security, "is slowly going back to its old ways" with the targeting of Arab and Muslim citizens and travelers.
Amid negative publicity about the practice, Bush promised during his 2000 election campaign to end it and, ironically, helped boost his standing among Arab-American voters that year by complaining during a debate that they were too often singled out by immigration agencies that used "secret evidence" against them.
He followed that up with a February, 2001, policy directive that not only lacks any enforcement provisions, but fails to apply to state and local police or profiling on the basis of national origin or religion, and includes a blanket exception for "national security" and "border integrity" -- "a loophole big enough to drive a truck through," according to the report.
Moreover, according to Goering, state laws regulating the practice are "woefully inadequate." Twenty-seven of the 50 states have no laws banning racial profiling, and only four states ban religious profiling.
The result, combined with the aftershocks of the 9/11 attacks, has been an explosion in profiling, according to the report.
"Prior to 9/11, racial profiling was frequently referred to as 'driving while black,'" the report noted. "Now, the practice can be more accurately characterized as driving, flying, walking, worshipping, shopping or staying at home while Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, Muslim or of Middle-Eastern appearance."
A poll conducted last month by Bendixon & Associations and co-sponsored by Amnesty found that Arab Americans were found three times more likely to have experienced racial profiling than the rest of the non-Hispanic white population and that Muslims were more likely to have experienced profiling since 9/11. Nearly half of Arab and Muslim Americans said they believe the government is using racial profiling to screen individuals for security purposes.
Among the more egregious examples cited in the report was that of an eight-year-old Muslim Boy Scout from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who was separated from his family while airport security officials search him and dismantled his soap box derby car. The boy is now routinely stopped and searched at airports.
In another case, Kimberly "Asma" Al-Hamsi, an observant white American Muslim who wears a hijab and walks with a crutch due to multiple sclerosis, was accosted with her son, who is deaf and has cerebral palsy, at a mall in Grapevine, Texas, by a man and two women who told her she did not belong in the country.
According to her testimony at one of the Amnesty hearings, plainclothes police intervened and told her she was being charged with terrorism, hate crimes and disorderly conduct. FBI agents were called and questioned her about her ethnicity and views on the war in Iraq, questioning to which thousands of Arab and South Asian immigrants have been subject over the past several years.
But profiling goes far beyond Muslims, Arab Americans or South Asians, according to the report. African American motorists continue to be pulled over by police all over the country, as do the cars of Native Americans in some states because of the tribal tags displayed on their cars. Similarly, African Americans are frequently singled out by security in major department and other retail stores, while Asian-American in big cities find themselves detained by police who apparently suspect gang activity.
In addition to humiliating and embarrassing the victims of profiling, such practices also generate fear and reluctance to call law enforcement agencies even in the case of genuine emergencies, according to the report. "We learned at our hearings about a Hindu-Punjabi Indian woman in her mid-60s who put out a fire in her kitchen by herself because she feared calling the fire department and a Pakistan-Muslim woman with a heart condition who said she would not dial 911 if she were having a heart attack.
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