President Bush has issued the first ban on racial profiling by federal law enforcement officers, with exceptions for preventing terrorist acts.
The new policy, according to the Washington Post, covers about 120,000 officers at federal agencies dealing with law enforcement. Under it, officers cannot use “generalized stereotypes” based on race or ethnicity to nab a culprit.
“Routine patrol duties must be carried out without consideration of race,” read the Justice Department policy, issued June 18. “Stereotyping certain races as having a greater propensity to commit crimes is absolutely prohibited.”
It marks the first time in history that the federal government has imposed across-the-board guidelines against racial profiling, the New York Times reported.
The newspaper used the example of a narcotics agent, who could no longer focus on a particular neighborhood because of its racial demographics.
The rules are more relaxed when it comes to national security, however.
The policy allows agents to use racial and ethnic information in “narrow” circumstances to help “identify terrorist threats and stop potential catastrophic attacks,” according to government officials quoted in the Times.
Immigration officials will still require visitors from Middle Eastern countries to register with the government, for example.
The policy permits officers to consider an individual’s race or ethnicity in determining whether a suspect fits a description provided by an informant.
“There are certain narrow sets of circumstances where race or ethnicity is a common-sense factor that you would consider along with other factors,” Ralph F. Boyd Jr., assistant attorney general for civil rights, told the Post. “But federal law enforcement cannot simply use race with no other information that someone has committed a crime.”
The Bush administration said the policy makes great strides in fulfilling a pledge made by the president in February 2001. In his first address to Congress, Bush said racial profiling is “wrong, and we will end it in America.”
Some minority groups say the policy doesn’t go far enough.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the Times that the new policy would do little to save Arab-Americans from further humiliation.
“There seem to be a lot of `buts’ and `howevers’ here that would allow profiling of Arabs and Muslims to continue,” Hooper said. “This is a problem that’s certainly widespread, and I don’t think this policy does anything to help the situation.”
Laura Murphy, director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Times that the policy might lack effectiveness because it wasn’t handed down as an executive order.
The Bush administration “is trying to get the public relations benefits of a new law without actually creating a new law,” she said.
According to Public Agenda, most Americans do not think individuals should be singled out because of race.
When asked about screening at airports, 58 percent of those surveyed said officials should “randomly pick” passengers for screening. Twenty-five percent said that only passengers on a list of suspects should be screened, while 11 percent said passengers with “Arabic names” or of “Middle Eastern appearance” should be screened.
In a January 2002 Public Agenda survey, half of Americans said there’s “no excuse” for the racial profiling of African Americans. But only one-fifth rejected the racial profiling of Middle Eastern people as potential terrorists, saying it was “understandable, but you wish it didn’t happen.”
A majority of African Americans also accepted some profiling of Middle Eastern people as a regrettable but not intolerable part of the war on terrorism.
Jodi Mathews is news writer for EthicsDaily.com.