Mr. CARDIN. I rise today to discuss the tragic shooting of Michael Brown last month in Ferguson, MO.
Michael Brown did not need to die. This cycle of needless sacrificing of our teens to violent ends must end. It has been heartbreaking to see yet another American town gripped by such a tragedy. I welcome Attorney General Holder’s decision last week to begin a pattern or practice investigation into the allegations of unlawful policing by the City of Ferguson’s Police Department. I also strongly support the Justice Department’s outreach efforts through their Community Oriented Policing Services Office. This office, known as the COPS Office, can help better evaluate and train local law enforcement to carry out fair and impartial policing.
In addition to the recent investigation announced by the Department of Justice, I urge Attorney General Holder to expedite the issuance of new guidelines that would, once and for all, prohibit racial profiling by law enforcement officers at all levels of government, including the federal, State, and local law enforcement officials. Congress should also examine the program that provides for the transfer of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies to ensure local government is not inhibiting the First Amendment rights of people to peaceably assemble and petition their government for the redress of grievances.
Local government must also respect the First Amendment rights of the press to do their jobs, report the story, and help provide the truth to the American people.
For a more permanent fix, Congress should take up and pass legislation that I authored, the End Racial Profiling Act, known as ERPA, which is S. 1038. I want to thank my colleagues who have cosponsored this legislation, including Senators REID, DURBIN, BLUMENTHAL, COONS, HARKIN, MENENDEZ, STABENOW, LEVIN, MIKULSKI, WARREN, BOXER, GILLIBRAND, HIRONO, WYDEN, and MURPHY. I also thank Congressman John Conyers, the ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, for introducing the House companion legislation, H.R. 2851, which has 54 cosponsors in the House of Representatives.
This legislation provides training and monitoring for law enforcement agencies at all levels of government. By enacting this legislation, we can begin to reduce the racial disparities that plague our Nation’s criminal justice system. We need to better educate more of our law enforcement officials in the differences between specific suspect descriptions and sweeping generalizations or profiling that wastes valuable resources. Racial profiling is un-American. It has no place within the values of our country. It turns communities against the partnerships needed to keep our neighborhoods safe.
Two years ago, I want to remind my colleagues, the Senate and the American people were having this very same conversation. So it is heartbreaking to me that we are having this conversation again without having taken more definitive action. In 2012 the Nation’s attention was riveted to the tragic avoidable death of Trayvon Martin in Florida in February 2012. As we all know from the news, an unarmed Martin, 17, was shot in Sanford, FL, on his way home from a convenience store while wearing a hoodie and carrying a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles.
After the tragedy I met with the faith and civil rights groups at the Center for Urban Families in Baltimore to discuss the issue of racial profiling. Joining me were representatives of various faith and civil rights groups in Baltimore, as well as graduates from the Center’s program.
I heard there first-hand accounts of typical American families who were victims of racial profiling. One young woman recounted going to a basketball game with her father, only to have her dad detained by the police for no apparent reason other than the color of his skin.
Trayvon’s tragic death led to a discussion in the Senate of the broader issue of racial profiling. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Ending Racial Profiling In America” in April 2012 which was chaired by Senator Durbin. At the hearing I was struck by the testimony of Ronald L. Davis, the Chief of Police of the City of Palo Alto, CA.
I want to quote in part from Chief Davis’s testimony, in which he said:
“There exists no national, standardized definition for racial profiling that prohibits all uses of race, national origin, and religion, except when describing a person. Consequently, many State and local policies define racial profiling as using race as the “sole” basis for a stop or any police action. This definition is misleading in that it suggests using race as a factor for anything other than a description is justified, which it is not. Simply put, race is a descriptor, not a predictor. To use race along with other salient descriptors when describing someone who just committed a crime is appropriate.”
Then Chief Davis continued:
“However, when we deem a person to be suspicious or attach criminality to a person because of the color of his or her skin, the neighborhood they are walking in or the clothing they are wearing, we are attempting to predict criminality. The problem with such predictions is that we are seldom right in our results and always wrong in our approach.”
After the hearing I was joined at a press conference by Baltimore’s Reverend Dr. Jamal Bryant, a leading youth activist and adviser to the Trayvon Martin family. Reverend Bryant echoed the call of ending racial profiling by law enforcement in America, and let me quote him:
“This piece of legislation being offered by my Senator, Senator Cardin, is the last missing piece for the civil rights bill from 1965 that says there ought to be equality regardless of one’s gender or one’s race. Racial profiling is in fact an extension of racism in America that has been unaddressed and this brings closure to the divide in this country.”
I have called for putting an end to racial profiling, a practice that singles out individuals based on race, ethnicity, national origin or religion. My legislation would protect minority communities by prohibiting the use of racial profiling by law enforcement officials.
First, the bill prohibits the use of racial profiling by all law enforcement agents, whether Federal, State or local. Racial profiling is defined in a standard, consistent definition as the practice of a law enforcement agent relying on race, ethnicity, religion or national origin as a factor in their investigation and activities. The legislation creates an exception for use of these factors where there is trustworthy information relevant to the locality and timeframe which links a person of a particular race, ethnicity or national origin to an identified incident or scheme.
Law enforcement agencies would be prohibited from using racial profiling in criminal or routine law enforcement investigations, immigration enforcement, and national security cases.
Second, the bill would mandate training on racial profiling issues and require data collection by local and State law enforcement agencies.
Third, this bill would condition the receipt of federal funds by State and local law enforcement on two grounds. First, under this bill, State and local law enforcement would have to “maintain adequate policies and procedures that are designed to eliminate racial profiling.” Second, they must “eliminate any existing practices that permit or encourage racial profiling.”
Fourth, the bill would authorize the Justice Department to provide grants to State and local governments to develop and implement best policing practices that would discourage racial profiling such as an early warning system.
Finally, the bill would require the Attorney General to provide periodic reports to assess the nature of any ongoing discriminatory profiling practices. The bill would also provide remedies for individuals who were harmed by racial profiling.
The legislation I have introduced is supported by a broad coalition of civil rights groups. These groups include the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the ACLU, NAACP, Rights Working Group, and numerous other national, State and local organizations.
Racial profiling is bad policy, but given the state of our budgets, it also diverts scarce resources from real law enforcement. Law enforcement officials nationwide already have tight budgets. The more resources spent investigating individuals because of their race, religion, national origin or ethnicity, the fewer resources are used towards suspects who are actually demonstrating illegal behavior. Using racial profiling makes it less likely that certain affected communities will voluntarily cooperate with local law enforcement and community policing efforts, making it harder for our law enforcement community to fight crime and terrorism.
Minorities living and working in these communities in which racial profiling is used may feel discouraged from traveling freely, which corrodes the public trust in government. This ultimately demonizes entire communities and perpetuates negative stereotypes based on an individual’s race, ethnicity or religion.
Racial profiling has no place in modern law enforcement. The vast majority of law enforcement officials who put their lives on the line every day handle their jobs with professionalism, diligence, and fidelity to the rule of law, and they understand that racial profiling has no place in their work.
However, the Congress and Justice Department should still take steps to prohibit racial profiling and finally root out its use.
I agree with Attorney General Holder’s remarks to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee where he stated:
“In this Nation, security and liberty are–at their best–partners, not enemies, in ensuring safety and opportunity for all. ….. In this Nation, the document that sets forth the supreme law of the land–the Constitution–is meant to empower, not exclude. ….. Racial profiling is wrong. It can leave a lasting scar on communities and individuals. And it is, quite simply, bad policing–whatever city, whatever state.”
The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the equal protection of law to all Americans. Racial profiling is important to that principle. It should be ended once and for all.
As the late Senator Ted Kennedy often said: “Civil rights is the great unfinished business of America.” Let’s continue the fight here to make sure that we truly have equal justice under the law for all Americans. I urge my colleagues to support the legislation I have introduced that will end racial profiling once and for all.