Tag Archives: profiling

Study: Racial disparities found in police traffic stops

A study of statewide police traffic stops in Vermont, the second-whitest state in the country, has found racial disparities in how police treat drivers.

Black drivers were four times more likely than whites to be searched after traffic stops, and Hispanic drivers were nearly three times more likely, according to the University of Vermont study, Driving While Black and Brown in Vermont. At the same time, black and Hispanic drivers were less likely than white and Asian drivers to be found with contraband that leads to an arrest or citation, according to the report, which was based on 2015 data.

Black and Hispanic drivers also were more likely than white drivers to get traffic tickets versus warnings, and black drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be arrested after stops, the study said.

“Almost all of the agencies in our study exhibit disparities in traffic policing to one degree or another,” said study co-author Stephanie Seguino, a professor in the university’s Department of Economics. “In other words, the results are not uniquely attributable to one or two agencies, but it’s really a widespread problem in terms of policing.”

One of the reasons some police officers use to explain the higher rate of searches of black drivers versus white drivers is concerns about the opioid crisis and drugs coming in from out of state, and there’s a racial component to those perceptions, Seguino said. But the study found white and Asian drivers were more likely than black or Hispanic drivers stopped to be found with contraband.

Vermont, which has a population of about 625,000, was 94.8 percent white the year the policing study was done, according to U.S. Census figures. Only Maine, at 94.9 percent, was whiter. Blacks made up 1.3 percent of the Vermont population, Hispanics 1.8 percent and Asians 1.6 percent.

The study looked at traffic stop data from 29 departments across Vermont, following a 2014 state law that required police to collect such race information. But many agencies had missing data in key categories, said co-author Nancy Brooks, of Cornell University, who said more work is needed to improve the data quality.

Police treatment of drivers varied among departments, the study found.

In Rutland, for example, police searched black drivers at a rate of more than six times that of white drivers while white drivers searched were found with contraband at a higher rate than black drivers.

Rutland police Chief Brian Kilcullen, who has been on the job since November 2015, said he was somewhat surprised by the findings.

“You start with awareness, and that’s what this does,” he said of the report, adding that the police department has done training sessions.

Burlington police Chief Brandon del Pozo said his department is seeing an improvement in the rate at which searches lead to contraband, called the hit rate, meaning police are doing fewer unnecessary searches.

To reduce the racial disparities, the report’s authors recommend creating a standardized system for collecting data, giving officers feedback on their performance during stops, supporting police departments in giving frequent training sessions on bias and monitoring disparities annually.

Class-action suit challenges US government’s no-fly list

For Yaseen Kadura, a U.S. citizen of Libyan descent, placement on the no-fly list caused problems far beyond the airport.

He was handcuffed and interrogated for hours when he tried to cross borders by land. He struggled to pick a medical school, unsure where he could travel. And when he tried to use Western Union, the transfers never went through. Even after he was removed from no-fly list, many of the problems persisted.

Earlier this month, a civil rights group filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in Alexandria on behalf of Kadura and thousands of other Americans who have been placed on the terror watch list. The suit seeks unspecified monetary compensation.

Among the plaintiffs is a 4-year-old California boy, listed as Baby John Doe, who according to the lawsuit was placed on the list of known or suspected terrorists as a 7-month-old boy.

The FBI didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The no-fly list has been the subject of numerous lawsuits, which have been successful to varying degrees. The litigation has forced the government to make modest changes in its administration of the list — those who challenge their placement on the list are now informed of their status and given general information about the reason. Prior to that, the government wouldn’t confirm whether an individual is on the list.

The lawsuits have dragged on for years, the no-fly list itself remains intact and the broader terrorist watch list continues to expand.

The class-action suit provides several advantages, according to Gadeir Abbas, one of the lawyers who filed it. It allows those who were wrongly placed on the list to receive compensation. It eliminates procedural difficulties that would occur when a plaintiff would challenge the list and the government would subsequently allow that individual to fly to avoid a potentially adverse ruling from a sympathetic judge. And it allows the suit to focus on some of the side effects of the watch list that are sometimes overlooked.

Kadura seems to have been placed on the watch list after traveling in 2011 to Libya, where he was working and helping journalists who were flocking to the country to cover civil unrest there.

Shortly after returning, his travel troubles began. In September 2012, he was handcuffed with guns at pointed him and detained at a border crossing after a brief trip to Canada. He said at one point, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent pressured him to become an informant.

“He said, ‘We know you’re not a bad guy. We want you to work with us,’” Kadura said. He told the agent he wanted a lawyer. The agent said that “if you stick with your lawyer it’s going to be difficult for you.”

Kadura appealed his placement on the no-fly list, and last year the government responded that it “reevaluated Mr. Kadura’s redress inquiry and is now providing a new determination. … At this time the U.S. government knows of no reason Mr. Kadura should be unable to fly.”

Still, Kadura experienced problems. In January, he tried to fly domestically, but it took hours on the phone with government officials and questioning from airport agents before he was allowed to board.

And he still can’t use Western Union, according to the lawsuit.

Other plaintiffs have had citizenship applications placed on hold, been detained at the border and had their phones tapped, according to the lawsuit.

“The government has engaged in a decade-long delusion that being placed on a watch list is not a big deal,” the attorney Abbas said. “The goal is for the watch-listing to affect every aspect of these people’s lives.”

The lawsuit alleges that placement on the watch list is motivated by religious profiling rather than any real security threat.

Many of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are residents of Dearborn, Michigan, which has a large Arab population and has been subjected to aggressive watch-listing tactics by federal agents, said Lena Masri, a CAIR attorney.

More than 1 million people are on the list of “known or suspected terrorists” administered by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, though most are not U.S. citizens.

ACLU: Chicago leads NYC in use of stop-and-frisk

A report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Chicago says the Chicago Police Department leads the NYPD in the use of the controversial “stop-and-frisk” practice. The report highlights the use — or overuse — the practice and makes the argument that the justification for such stops often fails to meet constitutional standards. 

The report indicates that last summer, the Chicago Police Department conducted more than 250,000 stops of civilians that did not lead to arrest. The ACLU said Chicagoans were stopped four times more often than people in New York City.

Stops per 1,000 residents was 93.6 in Chicago compared with 22.9 — at the highest point in 2011 — in New York City. The NYPD has been forced to curb significantly its use of stop-and-frisk after a federal judge found the use in that city to be unconstitutional.

“While most of the media coverage has suggested that that stop-and-frisk was a New York phenomena, it’s misuse is not limited to New York,” said Harvey Grossman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “Chicago has been systematically abusing this practice, for reasons that are not justified by our constitution.”

“And just like New York, we see that African Americans are singled out for these searches,” said Grossman.

A “stop-and-frisk” search has become common in African-American and Latino communities across Chicago, the ACLU said.

A 1968 Supreme Court ruling has allowed for officers to stop a civilian if they have reasonable suspicion that person has been, is, or is about to be involved in criminal activity. Once the stop has occurred, officers can frisk the individual if they have reasonable suspicion that the person is dangerous or has a weapon.

The ACLU report demonstrates that in Chicago, the stops are disproportionately target people of color and often are done without the justification required by the court.

The ACLU said African Americans represent nearly 72 percent of all the stops in the city of Chicago; aAfrican Americans represent only about 32 percent of the city’s population.

The data analyzed by the ACLU shows that stops most commonly take place in the districts with the largest minority populations. For example, in 2014, police conducted 266 stops per 1,000 people in the Englewood area, which is predominantly African American, while the rate in the predominantly white Lincoln/Foster district was 43 per 1,000 people.

The data also shows that African Americans are more likely to be the target of stops in predominantly white neighborhoods. In Jefferson Park, where the population is just 1 percent African American, African Americans account for a full 15 percent of all stop-and-frisks. In the Near North District, where the African American population is 9.1 percent, African Americans are subjected to more than one-half of all the stops.

The ACLU report concludes that “black citizens are disproportionately subjected to more stops than their white counterparts.

“What this data shows should be a wake-up call for residents of the City,” said Karen Sheley, senior legal counsel and one of the authors of the report.  “CPD is engaging in wholesale stop-and-frisks of African American youth, without any link to criminal activity in most cases.”

“These stops don’t make us safer, they simply drive a wedge further between the police and the public they serve,” Sheley added in a news release.

The ACLU also said the city of Chicago only records information about stops if there is no arrest or charges. Stops that result in arrest are not identifiable and so the rate of innocent persons stopped cannot be ascertained. In New York, which does keep such data, 88 percent of people stopped were innocent.

Also, Chicago records no information about frisks, which prevents the city from computing the rate of frisks resulting in the seizure of contraband. For example, in New York, which records frisk data, 2 percent of the frisks turned up weapons.

“The data makes clear that stop-and-frisk is a problem in Chicago and needs to be reform,” said Grossman. “The city has an opportunity to make modest fixes now, rather than risk further alienation with large swaths of the public.”

Justice Department releases guidelines against profiling by feds

The Obama administration issued guidelines on Dec. 8 that restrict the ability of federal law enforcement agencies to profile on the basis of religion, national origin and other characteristics, protocols the Justice Department hopes could be a model for local departments as the nation tackles questions about the role race plays in policing.

The policy, which replaces decade-old guidelines established under the Bush administration, also will require federal agencies to provide training and to collect data on complaints.

Civil rights advocates said they welcomed the broader protections, but were disappointed that the guidance will exempt security screening in airports and border checkpoints and won’t be binding on local and state police agencies.

“It’s so loosely drafted that its exceptions risk swallowing any rule and permit some of the worst law enforcement policies and practices that have victimized and alienated American Muslim and other minority communities,” Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, said in a statement. “This guidance is not an adequate response to the crisis of racial profiling in America.”

Though the policy – five years in the making – was not drafted in response to recent high-profile cases involving the deaths of black individuals at the hands of white police officers, it’s nonetheless being released amid an ongoing national conversation about standards for police use of force, racial justice and the treatment of minorities by law enforcement.

“Particularly in light of certain recent incidents we’ve seen at the local level – and the widespread concerns about trust in the criminal justice process which so many have raised throughout the nation – it’s imperative that we take every possible action to institute strong and sound policing practices,” said Attorney General Eric Holder, referring to the August shooting by a white police officer of an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, and the chokehold death weeks earlier of a man in New York City.

Holder, who has made the release of the guidelines a priority before leaving the Justice Department next year, called the guidelines a “major and important step forward to ensure effective policing” by federal law enforcement.

The policy extends a prohibition on routine racial profiling that the Justice Department announced in 2003 under then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. Civil rights groups have long said those rules left open too many loopholes by allowing an exemption for national security and by failing to extend the ban to characteristics beyond race and ethnicity. The new guidelines would end the carve-out on national security investigations and widen the profiling curbs to prohibit the practice on the basis of religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The rules cover federal agencies within the Justice Department, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They also extend to local and state officers serving on task forces alongside federal agents. Some activities of the Department of Homeland Security are covered, such as civil immigration enforcement, though border and airport security screening are exempt along with interdictions at ports of entry.

The policy was laid out in a memo that provides concrete examples of law enforcement actions that would and would not be permissible. The memo makes clear that agents may take race, ethnicity and other factors into account during investigations in limited circumstances, such as if they have information linking a person of a particular characteristic to a specific crime.

That means, for instance, that if U.S. Park Police officers are told to be on the lookout for a fleeing bank robbery suspect of a particular race and gender, they’d be permitted to use those factors in deciding which drivers to pull over on a highway.

Still, the policy’s practical impact remains to be seen, especially since local police officers are the ones primarily responsible for traffic stops, 911 calls and day-to-day interactions with the communities they patrol. Though not binding on local agencies, the Obama administration views the guidelines as a roadmap, with Holder encouraging local law enforcement officials to adopt the federal policy.

The administration would welcome “any decision that’s made by local law enforcement to apply these policies at the state and local level as well,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Monday.

Some advocacy groups for minority communities said the new guidelines didn’t go far enough, in part because they don’t cover state and local law enforcement and would still permit circumstances in which religion and national origin can be taken into account. Muslim Advocates, a national organization, noted that federal law enforcement would still be permitted to “map communities based on race, ethnicity or religion” and use that information to recruit informants.

“You can’t be against profiling in some contexts but for it in other contexts,” said Rajdeep Singh, policy director of the Sikh Coalition.

Some also complained about the airport and border exemptions for the Department of Homeland Security, which agency officials attributed to “the unique nature of border and transportation security as compared to traditional law enforcement.”

“This does not mean that officers and agents are free to profile,” the department said in a statement. “To the contrary, DHS’ existing policies make it categorically clear that profiling is prohibited,” while allowing for limited circumstances in which race, ethnicity and other characteristics could be considered.

The race of Jesus: Unknown, yet powerful

For two thousand years, he has been worshipped and adored. Multitudes look to him each day. And yet nobody really knows the face of Jesus.

That has not stopped humanity’s imagination, or its yearning to draw Jesus as close as possible. So when this Christmas season brought a torrent of debate over whether Jesus was a white man, it struck a sacred nerve.

“That statement carries a whole lot of baggage,” said Rockwell Dillaman, pastor of the Allegheny Center Alliance Church in Pittsburgh. “Political baggage, spiritual baggage, emotional baggage. Especially in a culture like ours where the relations of white people to other ethnicities has often been marked by injustice and distrust.”

Why should we even care what Jesus looked like? If his message is God and love, isn’t his race irrelevant? Some say God wanted it that way, since there are no references to Jesus’ earthly appearance in the Bible.

But the debate was a reminder of just how difficult it is for anyone to transcend race — even a historical figure widely considered to be beyond human.

“I find it fascinating that that’s what people really want to know — what race was Jesus. That says a lot about us, about Americans today,” said Edward Blum, co-author of “The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.”

“Jesus said lots of things about himself _ I am divine, I am the son of man, I am the light of the world,” Blum said. “What race is light? How do you racially categorize that?”

Jesus can be safely categorized as a Jew, born about 2,000 years ago in the Middle East in what is now Palestinian territory. Therefore, many scholars believe that Jesus must have looked “Arab,” with brownish skin.

“Today, in our categories, we would probably think of him as a person of color,” said Doug Jacobsen, a professor of church history and theology at Messiah College.

That view was contested by Fox News host Megyn Kelly while critiquing a Slate.com column titled “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore.”

“Jesus was a white man, too,” Kelly said, launching a national discussion about history, tradition and just how white Christmas should be.

Her statement drew responses from impassioned rebukes to scholarly rebuttals.

“It’s just an incorrect statement,” Jacobsen said. “It’s an ignorant statement, not an intentionally false statement.”

Wrote Jonathan Merritt in The Atlantic: “If he were taking the red-eye flight from San Francisco to New York today, Jesus might be profiled for additional security screening.”

If this is so obvious, though, why does a Google image search for “Jesus” reveal countless pictures of a European man with straight hair, fair skin and, often, blue eyes? Why is that the prevalent image in America, from stained glass windows to movies to children’s books?

The first pictures of Jesus appeared several hundred years after his death, Blum said. Some depicted him in animal form, as a lion or a lamb. Blum said that from about 700 to 1500 A.D., various Jesus images proliferated throughout Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa _ including hosts of black Jesus pictures.

“People in every culture portray Jesus looking like people they knew,” said Jacobsen. “They depict him as one of their own.”

Dillaman, the pastor, has a book that offers Bible images from different world cultures — a last supper where everyone is Thai; images of Jesus as Chinese or African.

“All these ethnicities are trying to capture Jesus in their own skin, if you will,” he said.

But in humanity’s yearning to identify with the holy, another path gets overlooked.

“Our calling is to know God as he is and to love God with all of our being and be conformed to the image of Christ,” Dillaman said, “rather than to make him look like us.”

By the 1500s, Blum said, 90 percent of Christians were European. As Europe colonized the globe, they took white Jesus with them.

In America, white Jesus images started to become widespread in the early 1800s, according to Blum, coinciding with a dramatic rise in the number of slaves, a push to move Native Americans further west, and a growing manufacturing capability.

Today, a white Jesus image is ingrained in American culture. “When we live in a world with a billion images of white Jesus, we can say he wasn’t white all we want, but the individual facts of our world say something different,” Blum said.

“Jesus is white without words. It’s at the assumption level,” Blum said. “Lodged deep down inside is this assumption that Jesus was a white man. That’s where I think (Kelly) is speaking from.”

There also is a desire to fit Jesus into modern racial classifications. In America today, this logic goes, many Jews are white. Jesus was a Jew, so Jesus must be white.

“The categories of white and black, coming out of the American experience, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to apply them to Jesus,” said Joseph Curran, an associate professor of religion at Misericordia University.

“The best inference is what part of the world he was from – he looked like a Palestinian because he was from that part of the world,” Curran said. “Does that mean he was black or white? I don’t think those categories matter much.”

For Carol Swain, a scholar of race at Vanderbilt University and a “Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ,” the whole debate is totally irrelevant.

“Whether he’s white, black, Hispanic, whatever you want to call him, what’s important is that people find meaning in his life,” Swain said.

“As Christians we believe that he died on the cross for the redemption of our sins,” she said. “To me that’s the only part of the story that matters — not what skin color he was.”

Justice Department aims to halt discriminatory policing in New Orleans

The Department of Justice announced that it has entered into an agreement with the city of New Orleans to resolve allegations of unlawful police misconduct by the New Orleans Police Department.

The filing of the consent decree in federal court in New Orleans continues the process of reforming the NOPD and begins federal court oversight of that reform to ensure effective and constitutional policing in New Orleans. 

A news release said the consent decree is the product of an investigation of NOPD that began in May 2010 and found that NOPD engages in a pattern or practice of misconduct that violates the Constitution and other federal laws.

The Justice Department’s investigation found a pattern or practice of excessive force, including stops, searches and arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The investigation also found evidence of discriminatory policing based on race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.

The investigation was separate from the numerous federal criminal civil rights prosecutions of NOPD officers during the same period.

The investigation included numerous onsite visits and observations of police-community interactions, including interviews with New Orleans officials, NOPD command staff, supervisors and police officers.

Additionally, the department’s investigation reviewed more than 36,000 pages of documents and held interviews with residents, community groups and other stakeholders.

“Today’s action represents a critical step forward,” stated Attorney General Eric Holder. “It reaffirms the Justice Department’s commitment to the highest standards of fairness and professionalism and underscores our determination to work alongside our law enforcement partners to protect not only the safety – but the essential civil rights – of everyone in this country,”

The consent decree requires NOPD to make broad changes in policies and practices related to use of force; stops, searches and arrests; custodial interrogations; photographic line-ups; preventing discriminatory policing; community engagement; recruitment; training; officer assistance and support; performance evaluations and promotions; supervision and misconduct investigations.

The agreement also requires more transparency by NOPD, encourages greater civilian oversight and increases community interaction and partnerships.

The agreement further requires close oversight by a court-appointed monitoring team, which will periodically submit public reports regarding NOPD’s progress.

The consent decree, according to Justice, will remain in effect until the city demonstrates it has complied with its provisions for two years or until the monitor’s assessment of the agreement’s outcome measures demonstrates sustained improvement.

“This groundbreaking agreement represents a critical milestone in the recovery of New Orleans and a victory for our city, its police department and most of all its citizens,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Jim Letten. “The consent decree will serve as a blueprint for the New Orleans Police Department, so that it may become a world class police department – one which will be more effective in protecting its citizens against all threats and dangers.”

Download a PDF of the current issue of Wisconsin Gazette and join our Facebook community.