The End Racial Profiling Act of 2015 (ERPA), introduced by Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), is the latest iteration of a federal bill to eliminate racial profiling in law enforcement, including at the state and local levels. The bill defines “racial profiling” to include profiling on the bases of actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, and for the first time, gender identity and sexual orientation. The language of the bill echoes the Department of Justice’s recent guidance on profiling that applies to all federal law enforcement agencies and personnel. ERPA would essentially expand the DOJ guidance to state and local law enforcement.
ERPA is an important first step in building trust between communities and police, and in light of recent events, Congress should give it due consideration.
It is a shame that in 2015 racial profiling continues to be widely practiced at every level of law enforcement. As a practice, racial profiling is unwarranted and ineffective in preventing crime, and we’ve known this for a long time. In fact, it frequently undermines law enforcement efforts. Racial profiling does not prevent criminal activity, but rather breaks up families, divides communities, and leads to the mass incarceration of people of color. People who live in constant fear of police brutality are highly unlikely to cooperate with police and are reluctant even to report crimes they may have witnessed or suffered.
Racial profiling is also a daily indignity imposed upon people of color across the country. Disturbingly, LGBTQ people of color – particularly transgender people, youth, and people living with HIV – report astounding rates of interaction with police.
This unjustifiable targeting is part of a long and painful history of discrimination and harassment. In fact, from 2000 to 2010, law enforcement agents were among the top three groups of perpetrators of homophobic or transphobic violence against LGBTQ people. A recent report by the Williams Institute highlights the ongoing negative interactions between the LGBTQ community and police. For example, during a routine inspection of a gay bar in Fort Worth, Texas in 2009, police attacked a patron, resulting in injuries including brain hemorrhaging. The city eventually settled the man’s claim for $400,000. In 2011, police in Philadelphia used racial and homophobic slurs when they responded to a domestic dispute. Both of the victims also had to be treated at hospitals for injuries suffered during the confrontation.
While comprehensive trainings, nondiscrimination policies, and community outreach are all needed to stop these abhorrent practices, ERPA is a step in the right direction. The bill specifically prohibits any law enforcement agent or agency from relying on any of the covered bases in selecting an individual to investigate. An exception to that rule allows officers to rely on one of the characteristics only when there is trustworthy information linking a person with a particular characteristic to an identified crime. ERPA would also require law enforcement agencies to adopt and maintain policies to eliminate profiling and dispense with those that allow profiling.
If enacted into law, ERPA would create two enforcement mechanisms–a civil right of action in state and federal courts for those injured by racial profiling, and authorization for the Attorney General to withhold grant funds from noncompliant law enforcement agencies.
It’s the responsibility of the Senate and House to hold hearings on the need for ERPA. Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.) of the Senate Judiciary Committee owe it to the hundreds of people being harassed daily by law enforcement, including members of the African American, Latino, Muslim, and LGBTQ communities.
In the past several months our country has been rocked by clashes between police and communities. Much of this conflict is due to widespread racial profiling and mistrust. If we are serious about building trust between police and the communities they are sworn to protect, we must pass ERPA and end racial profiling nationwide.