NEW ORLEANS - Today the ACLU of Louisiana releases its report entitled Unequal Under the Law, the culmination of a year-long study on racial profiling in Louisiana. The ACLU's Racial Justice Fellow Liza Grote spent a year gathering and analyzing data from local law enforcement agencies and speaking with victims of racial profiling across the state. Grote said: "Throughout the last year I heard innumerable stories about people being targeted by law enforcement because of the color of their skin. Our studies show that in many cases these stories are true, and that people of color are not treated equally by law enforcement."
The report tells victims' stories, and analyzes three months of arrest and population data from law enforcement agencies in Avoyelles Parish, DeSoto Parish, and St. Tammany Parish. In each of these parishes, the data show that people of color are arrested at a higher rate than their representation in the population. The report also lays out specific steps law enforcement and community members may take to move aggressively towards ending racial profiling in Louisiana.
The most extreme example of racial profiling was found in the towns of Bunkie, where people of color are 3.8 times more likely to be arrested than white people, and Mansfield, where people of color are 2.9 times more likely to be arrested than white people.
The data from towns like Bunkie and Mansfield provide a very strong indication that racial profiling continues to exist in Louisiana. "For months we have been saying that there is a problem in Bunkie, but no one believed us. This report shows that there is a problem with the Bunkie Police Department," said Jerriel Bazile, a member of a multi-city coalition in Central Louisiana fighting for fairness in the Avoyelles Parish criminal justice system.
"Racial profiling is wrong and is ineffective policing," said Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "Profiling diverts scarce resources away from the actual criminals by targeting people for no reason other than their appearance. The taxpayers of Louisiana deserve effective policing that will fight crime rather than harass people who have done nothing wrong." In addition, where police departments do not engage in profiling, collection of data will help them in the event that their practices are challenged.
King Downing, Director of the national ACLU's Campaign Against Racial Profiling, notes: "Unfortunately, the report's data from some of Louisiana's law enforcement agencies mirrors data from police departments across the country that have been found to commit blatant racial profiling. The challenge now--what will these agencies do?"
With the release of Unequal Under the Law, the ACLU calls upon law enforcement agencies to follow the lead of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office, which has shown its opposition to racial profiling by agreeing to collect racial data on all traffic stops. St. Tammany Parish recognizes that more information leads to better and fairer policing and can help build trust between communities and law enforcement.
The ACLU hopes that the Louisiana Legislature will mandate all law enforcement agencies to collect racial data on all traffic stops regardless of whether an agency has a written policy against racial profiling. "Now, if a police department has a policy against profiling, it doesn't have to keep race records," said Esman. "Our study shows that even with the best of intentions, racial profiling can persist, and without the proper information police supervisors have no way to monitor potential problems among their officers. Keeping records is the only way a police department can be sure that its officers aren't targeting people for the wrong reasons."