Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose (right) led a panel
discussion on racial profiling at CUA.
Policing the Act of Racial Profiling
The topic of racial profiling is an evolving and ever-changing subject, particularly since the days of Sept. 11, 2001. While some feel the situation has improved, others believe racial profiling has regained a measure of respectability since Sept. 11 and think the nation has a long way to go before individuals stop judging people based on their race, ethnicity and religion. As stated by Talib Karim, attorney and chairman of the Muslim Legal Defense and Education Fund, "Each and every person is profiled when he or she walks into a room. But why? Why in the year 2003 is this still happening?"
A five-person panel, including Kareem, tackled this question and others Feb. 26 at the Third Annual Racial Profiling Forum held in Byron Auditorium and presented by the Black Law Students Association. As each shared various views and perspectives, it was apparent that nowhere have the effects of racial profiling been more controversial than in the law enforcement community, particularly in regards to traffic stops.
Montgomery County Chief of Police Charles Moose, nationally known for his department's involvement in the Washington, D.C.-area sniper shootings, is a recognized lecturer on the philosophy and implementation of community policing and questioned, "Is the pain of racially profiling an individual worth the prize?" Although the goal of law enforcement is to make decisions based solely on the behavior of those involved, Moose acknowledged that those who racially profile rarely catch a criminal.
"When we look at racial profiling traffic data and search data, the one consistent thing is that the police don't have high rates of success when making search decisions based upon the race of the driver," Moose said.
Fighting for those people who claim they have been victims of racial profiling has been litigator William Mertens, who shared with the audience his findings of racial disparity along I-95 between Baltimore and the Delaware state line. Mertens, who is a representative of the Maryland NAACP, has been lead counsel with the Maryland ACLU in racial profiling cases against the Maryland State Police. He also was involved in traffic studies that occurred after 1995, which was when the Maryland State Police started releasing specific numbers on traffic stops. These studies examined the traffic composition of this corridor and found that while 98 percent of the motorists in this area were committing traffic violations that qualified them as stoppable traffic, there were large racial disparities among those who were actually being stopped and searched during a traffic stop. The findings showed that although minorities only accounted for 20 percent of drivers in that area, 80 percent of those being searched were minorities.
"As one nation, we still live entirely different experiences," Mertens said. Although he said the numbers have slightly improved over the years, the trends show there are people who will probably never be touched by racial profiling. However, there are others who have been directly affected by it and live in fear of police officers, as expressed by an African American woman in the audience.
Lieutenant Louis Cannon, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Washington, D.C., made the case that profiling is a necessary tool for law enforcement but emphasized the fact that incorporating race into profiling is crossing the line. "Officers should be looking for specific actions, not race," he said. "There is good profiling and it is effective. It can get you what you need. But including race taints an image."
Cannon, who developed training for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center on profiling and stops, suggested that racial profiling can be resolved with effective management and training. By identifying and correcting the problems at the source, Cannon believes law enforcement can make strides in setting parameters for officers, including restrictions on how much law enforcement is willing to infringe on civil liberties.
And while law enforcement can work internally to solve incidents of racial profiling, Chief Moose offered a call to action to all those on the outside. "If you are silent, you lose. You have the right to complain about the policing you receive and the police tend to do what the constituents want," he said. "It really is in the hands of the people in the community."