2009 Press Releases

6.30.2009: New Report Documents Racial Profiling In Louisiana

Government Policies Cause Rise In Law Enforcement Profiling, Says ACLU of Louisiana. 

Widespread racial profiling by law enforcement agents remains a pervasive problem in Louisiana and throughout the United States, according to a report out today by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Rights Working Group (RWG). Government policies are a major cause of the disproportionate stopping and searching of racial minorities by law enforcement agencies, according to the report, which was submitted today to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

"Racial profiling remains a widespread and pervasive problem throughout the U.S., impacting the lives of millions of people in the African American, Asian, Latino, South Asian, Arab and Muslim communities," said Chandra Bhatnagar, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program and the main author of the report. "The U.S. government must take urgent, direct action to rid the nation of the scourge of racial and ethnic profiling and bring this country into conformity with both the Constitution and international human rights obligations."

Today's report includes information about ongoing racial profiling in Louisiana, where the ACLU continues to monitor complaints of police abuse. Last year, the ACLU of Louisiana released a report, Unequal under the Law, which highlights problems of racial profiling in communities around the state. Based on a year-long study, the ACLU discovered that law enforcement agents routinely stop African-Americans far out of proportion to their number in the population.

Since that time, the ACLU has continued to receive reports that African-Americans are targeted by police. In 2009, the ACLU of Louisiana learned that an elderly African American man was killed by police on the front porch of his home in Homer, near the Arkansas border. Members of the Homer community identified this killing as part of a larger pattern of harassment of African-Americans. The Chief of Police in Homer, Russell Mills, told a reporter "If I see three or four young black men walking down the street, I have to stop them and check their names. I want them to be afraid every time they see the police that they might get arrested."

ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman said, "Louisiana has a long and tragic history of racial discrimination. It is past time for law enforcement to stop racial profiling and treat everyone, regardless of their circumstances, equally as the law requires. It is no longer acceptable to target people based on their appearance. The people of Louisiana deserve better."

Today's report came in response to a last-minute Bush administration submission to CERD in January 2009 that was plagued by omissions, deficiencies and mischaracterizations. In both its initial report to CERD in April 2007 and the follow-up submission in January, the Bush administration relied on the Justice Department's 2003 "Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agents" to support claims the government was taking steps to eliminate racial profiling. However, that document doesn't cover profiling based on religion or national origin, doesn't apply to state or local law enforcement agencies and doesn't include any mechanisms for enforcement or punishment for violating the recommendations. It also contains a blanket exception to the recommendations in cases of "national security" or "border integrity."

As a result of U.S. reliance on the vague Justice Department guidance and other Bush policies, people of color have been disproportionately victimized through various government initiatives including FBI surveillance and questioning, special registration programs, border stops, immigration enforcement programs and the creation of "no fly lists," according to today's report.

CERD is an independent group of experts that oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a treaty signed and ratified by the U.S. in 1994. All levels of U.S. government are required to comply with the treaty's provisions, which require countries to review national, state and local policies and to amend or repeal laws and regulations that create or perpetuate racial discrimination. In February 2008, ACLU of Louisiana Legal Director Katie Schwartzmann presented testimony to CERD concerning racial profiling and other race discrimination in Louisiana.

The ACLU and RWG's report to CERD is available online athttp://www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/racialjustice/40055pub20090629.html

The Bush administration's final report to CERD is at: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/113905.pdf

  ACLU Racial Justice Program Director Dennis Parker talks about the persuasive nature of racial profiling and about the ACLU's new report in a podcast here: http://www.aclu.org/multimedia/audio/40067res20090630.html