Civil and Human Rights Groups React to Reports of Updated Profiling Guidance

When George W. Bush said in a presidential debate in 2000 that “we ought to do everything we can to end racial profiling,” the civil and human rights community hoped that his encouraging statement would lead to federal policy. However, his administration’s profiling guidance, released in 2003 and still to date unreformed, was inadequate 11 years ago and is even less sufficient in 2014 as it continues to affect millions of Americans from a range of racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.

That was the sentiment of a letter sent by 225 groups two years ago, which called on Attorney General Eric Holder to update the guidance. Specifically, it urged Holder to end profiling on the basis of national origin or religion; to withdraw the national security and border integrity exceptions; to state that the ban on profiling applies to data collection and analysis, assessments, and predicated investigations carried out by law enforcement agencies, including the mapping of communities based on crude stereotypes; to establish enforceable standards that must be met by all law enforcement agencies; and to prohibit federal law enforcement from working with state and local law enforcement agencies receiving federal funding that do not have racial profiling policies in line with the guidance.

A report last week by the New York Times noted that a draft of the updated guidance would broaden the prohibited profiling definition to include religion, national origin, gender, and sexual orientation – an amendment called for by civil and human rights groups. According to the article, they would also wipe out the broad national security exemption.

But the report also indicated that the revised guidance would not change the way the FBI uses nationality to map areas based on stereotypes about which groups are more likely to commit certain types of crimes.

“This sends the ill-conceived message that our government views prejudice as acceptable,” said a statement issued by a coalition of 10 civil and human rights groups on Thursday after the Times reported on the updates. “And racial and other profiling permitted in one context will inevitably bleed into others. The FBI should focus on actual criminal suspects and national security threats, not on targeting entire communities based on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion,” according to the statement.”

Over the weekend, leaders at some of those groups published additional stories expressing disappointment in the updates.

Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, wrote that, given the Obama administration’s commendable criminal justice reforms, “we had expected it would take a far different approach to racial profiling than this. After all, revisions to racial profiling rules that retain loopholes permitting racial, religious and national origin profiling are not the reforms that Americans need and deserve.”

Murphy put the practice of mapping in perspective, saying, “Many mass shooters are young white males, yet we rightly don’t map where whites live or send informants to majority white communities to ferret out potential mass shooters.”

Similarly, Dr. James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, called mapping “profiling run amok,” and called on the Obama administration to close existing loopholes and end mapping, specifically the NYPD/CIA project.

“The use of racial, ethnic and religious profiling by law enforcement is un-American and should end. Targeting people for what they look like or because of their group characteristics is discrimination at its worst and a poor excuse for law enforcement,” Zogby said. “By casting a large net and targeting an entire racial or ethnic group instead of focusing on specific behaviors, law enforcement not only wastes precious resources, it also runs the risk of breaking trust and alienating communities who can be helpful allies in building partnerships.”

And while the updates have not yet been officially released by the Department of Justice, reports of this possible reform serve as an important reminder of the progress yet to be made on this particular front.

“It’s time for the administration to propose a meaningful update to this policy,” the coalition’s statement ended. “We look forward to learning the details of this proposal.”

The 10 organizations who issued the statement in response to the Times’ report were the ACLU, Arab American Institute, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Muslim Advocates, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, NAACP, National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC), Sikh Coalition, Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund (SALDEF), and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).