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Legislation attempt to end racial profiling

Associated Press | 4/25/2012, 7:09 a.m.

No one denies — at least openly — that racial profiling is bad practice. The question at hand, and one raised during a Senate Committee hearing on civil and human rights earlier this week, is how to end it.

The issue has taken on a heightened sense of urgency in the wake of the shooting death of 17-year-old African American Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida. The shooter, George Zimmerman — who is of Jewish and Hispanic descent — is now on trial for Martin’s death and recently posted $150,000 bail.

On Tuesday, April 17, the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights listened to testimony from legislators, legal experts, law enforcement officials, and advocates expressing their views on the state of racial profiling in America.

Members of the committee debated the merits of The End Racial Profiling Act of 2011 — which supporters say would help strengthen ties between minority communities and law enforcement agencies that are supposed to serve them.

Opponents describe the bill, first introduced last October by Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), as an insult to police officers everywhere.

Captain Frank Gale, with the Denver Sheriff’s office, says the bill would only “make matters worse.” The language, he argues, is “too broad” and calls for policies that are “in real life not practical.”

Gale, who is the national second vice president with the Fraternal Order of Police, also took aim at the bill’s financial consequences. The legislation, he says, “threatens to penalize local and state law enforcement agencies” by withholding federal funding unless these agencies comply with the requirements of the bill.

Those requirements include providing training to all officers on racial profiling issues, collecting racial and other sociological data in accordance with federal regulation, and establishing an independent audit program to ensure appropriate response to allegations of racial profiling.

“How can we fight the battle,” asked Gale, “if we also propose to deny these funds to agencies that need them because they can’t afford training or personnel to document allegations of racial profiling issues?”

Roger Clegg, president and general counsel for the conservative think tank Center for Equal Opportunity, echoes Gale’s concerns.

Claiming that the frequency of racial profiling is often “exaggerated,” he urged committee members to exercise caution when analyzing related data. His later remarks caused a stir.

“I am opposed to profiling, particularly to profiling in the traditional law enforcement context where frequently it is African Americans who are the victims of that profiling,” he said. “Nonetheless, I think we have to recognize that it’s going to be tempting for the police and individuals to profile so long as a disproportionate amount of street crime is committed by African Americans.”

Legal analysts and supporters of the bill argue Clegg’s comment misses the point, which revolves not around street crime but around the need to build community trust.

“The issue is how we deploy our street officers in ways that are effective, fair, and carry out the most important ideals of our society,” said University of Pittsburg Professor David Harris.