Thursday, June 07, 2001

Racial profiling ban introduced in Senate

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — Calling racial profiling an unconstitutional violation of civil rights, lawmakers Wednesday proposed a bill that would ban the practice and punish state and local law-enforcement agencies that refuse to comply by withholding federal grants.

        Police departments would have to collect demographic data on traffic stops and submit the findings to the U.S. Department of Justice, which would issue an annual report to Congress.

        The federal government — or private citizens who believe they have been discriminated against — also would be able to file civil lawsuits to stop law-enforcement agencies from stopping suspects because of their race or ethnic origin.

        “Racial profiling is a double-barreled assault on our social fabric,” said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who claimed African-Americans and Hispanics have been unfairly stigmatized as criminals.

        Allegations of racial profiling by Cincinnati police are in an unprecedented mediation process while the case is pending in federal court. Since May 7, Cincinnati police have been documenting the race of all persons involved in traffic stops.

        The federal legislation, the result of several months of talks with legal, civil-rights and law-enforcement officials, had been stalled while Democrats sought influential Republican supporters. But the political dynamics have changed now that Democrats rule the Senate, giving Democrats much more leverage to deal with the Republican-controlled House and the White House.

        President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have condemned racial profiling, and several Republicans joined Mr. Conyers and Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., Wednesday as sponsors of the bill.

        Mr. Ashcroft, who testified on Justice Department matters Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee, said the department was “dedicated to a single proposition: the energetic enforcement of the rule of law, including protecting the civil rights of all Americans.”

        Mr. Ashcroft said he had no higher priority than civil rights, and cited as an example the Justice Department's quick response to racial unrest in Cincinnati in April. The Justice Department decided to investigate whether Cincinnati police had a pattern of excessive force after the police shooting of an unarmed black man led to protests and riots.

        Thirteen states have laws relating to racial profiling, and more than 400 law-enforcement agencies now collect data on traffic stops.

        The new bill would require federal law-enforcement agencies to collect profiling data and encourage state and local police to do the same or risk losing federal law-enforcement grants.

        The Justice Department also would have the discretion to award grants so police departments could train officers, purchase video cameras in patrol cars or develop early warning systems to identify problem officers.

        Separate legislation introduced in the House last month would withhold federal highway money to states that failed to ban racial profiling and gather data on traffic stops.

        Civil-rights groups argued that the bill was long overdue and, given the general support of Mr. Bush and Mr. Ashcroft, should move quickly through Congress.


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