LCCR letter to Secretary Mineta on Racial Profiling

Media 06.19,02

Recipient: Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta

The Honorable Norman Mineta
Secretary of Transportation
United States Department of Transportation
400 7th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20590

Dear Secretary Mineta:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights coalition representing people of color, women, children, older Americans, persons with disabilities, gays and lesbians, major religious organizations, labor unions, and civil and human rights groups, we urge you to take steps to ensure that as our nation’s airlines work to enhance airline security in the wake of September 11, they not lose sight of our country’s core civil rights values.

In the wake of the tragic events of September 11, LCCR joined with all Americans in condemning the senseless acts of terrorism and violence. Unfortunately, as part of the debate about whether certain security tactics are effective and appropriate, there has been public reconsideration of the discredited practice of racial profiling. LCCR strongly rejects these appeals for intolerance. Now, more than ever, the nation’s laws must be enforced without resort to discrimination or other unconstitutional means.

We know that you share our view that racial profiling is a flawed law enforcement tactic and a flawed tactic in the war on terrorism. It is inefficient, ineffective and counterproductive. It violates core American values including the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. Indeed, recent events have highlighted the need for a strong, trusting relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Racial profiling is an impediment to such cooperation.

In furtherance of our continued goal to end racial profiling, LCCR has strongly supported the bill introduced by Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Representative John Conyers (D-MI), the “End Racial Profiling Act of 2001” (S.989/H.R. 2074). This bill would prohibit racial profiling, establish remedies for victims of profiling, provide funds for police training and other programs to strengthen accountability and improve community relations, and provide for the collection of data that will enable officials to detect profiling where it occurs and take steps to eradicate it. The Feingold/Conyers bill has bipartisan support from 16 Senators and 92 House members. We are grateful for the statements of President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd, in support of ending racial profiling by law enforcement. We hope that you will work with us to ensure the Administration’s support for this important legislation.

While the debate continues about the appropriate balance between a clear need for enhanced security and our strong commitment to the protection of civil rights and civil liberties, one thing should be clear: once a person is determined by the appropriate security entity not to be a security risk, that person should not be treated differently by airline personnel because of his or her race, religion, color or ethnicity.

In recent months, the civil rights community has been gravely concerned about reported incidents of discrimination based on race, color, religion or ethnicity by airlines, in cases where there is no question of security. For example:

  • In April of this year, Bhavdeep Singh, a Sikh American, was placed under arrest at Philadelphia airport because he had forgotten to remove his kirpan before arriving at the airport. After advising the security screener about the kirpan, the man was handcuffed, arrested, placed in a jail cell and eventually released. The next day, when Mr. Singh arrived at the airport to take a re-scheduled flight (per the airline’s instructions), he was told that because of “security concerns” arising from his arrest the previous evening, he would not be permitted to fly. Eventually, after the intervention of DOT officials in Washington, Mr. Singh was cleared to board a flight to Los Angeles.

  • In San Antonio, Texas, a 32-year-old businessman of Pakistani descent was aboard a Delta Airlines flight trying to get to his brother’s wedding in Pakistan. He was ushered off the plane by the pilot who said that he and his crew were “not safe flying with you.”

  • Jihad Al-Shrafi, an Arab-American passenger scheduled for an American Airlines flight 181 from Boston International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport was forbidden by an American Airlines manager to enter the aircraft. The manager explained, “One of the passengers is not comfortable flying with you.”

  • An Egyptian-American, Mr. Mohamad El-Sayed, scheduled for a United Airlines flight from Tampa, Florida to Egypt was asked by the pilot to deplane and told, “I am not going into the air with you on board.”

In light of these and numerous other examples of discrimination that have been reported to LCCR member organizations over the past several months, we think it important for the DOT to reaffirm its commitment to ensuring compliance with our nation’s civil rights laws by requiring each U.S. airline to take the following steps, subject to final approval by the FAA:

  1. Develop a written policy setting forth what role, if any, race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion may play in determining whether passengers pose a legitimate security threat;

  2. Develop a written policy setting forth what criteria airline employees are to consider in determining whether a passenger may pose a legitimate security threat;

  3. Develop a written policy setting forth what steps airline employees should take in the event they determine that a passenger may pose a security threat; and

  4. Develop a written policy to ensure adequate language assistance to persons who are Limited English Proficient who are questioned or detained by airline personnel.

In addition, the FAA and Transportation Security Administration should ensure that the airlines:

  1. Train their pilots and flight crews on these policies;

  2. Develop and implement a system to record all instances in which passengers are removed from flights or prohibited from boarding, in order to help assess whether the new policies, procedures, and training programs are working as intended. This data should be collected and maintained utilizing specific subcategories ? such as Arab, South Asian, Sikh and Muslim ? in addition to the traditional Census categories;

  3. Issue guidance to all employees, including personnel staff, discussing the airline’s obligation to conduct hiring for all positions, including security positions, free from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, or gender; and

  4. Develop guidelines regarding the provision of language assistance to customers subject to security action who are Limited English Proficient, as well as cultural, religious and racial sensitivity training for all personnel, including security personnel.

While these reforms do not address all of the racial or ethnic profiling concerns that have arisen in recent months, such as the use of race or ethnicity by airline and/or airport security agencies, the use of the CAPPS system or FBI “watch lists,” and do not address similar concerns related to rail and bus transportation, they would be a good first step on the long road toward ensuring continued vigilance in protecting the civil rights of all of the flying public, while – at the same time – not compromising legitimate security efforts by the airlines.

We would appreciate the opportunity to discuss these issues with you and your staff at your earliest convenience.

Thank you for your time and attention on this important matter.


Wade Henderson
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

Laura Murphy
American Civil Liberties Union

Charles Kamasaki
National Council of La Raza

Hilary Shelton

Karen Narasaki