By Jordyn Bussey, a 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern
The troubling reality of discriminatory profiling in the U.S. is gaining more attention following several tragic events, including the fatal shooting on August 9 of Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old African American by a White police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
First introduced in 2001, the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) was most recently introduced last year by Sen. Ben Cardin, D. Md., and Rep. John Conyers, D. Mich. ERPA would prohibit the use of profiling based on race, ethnicity, religion and national origin by law enforcement agencies, as well as provide resources for training and gathering data on such activity. It is currently stalled in both chambers of Congress.
On September 15, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NAACP, and South Asian Americans Leading Together teamed up with Cardin to host a briefing on profiling on Capitol Hill. Hilary Shelton, director to the NAACP’s Washington bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy, moderated the briefing. Speakers included Rep. Bobby Scott, D. Va., the ranking member of the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee, Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, and Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president for policy at The Leadership Conference. Panelists included Benjamin Crump of Parks and Crump Attorneys at Law, who represents Brown’s family, Chief John I. Dixon III of the Petersburg, Va. police department, Phillip Atiba Goff, president of the Center for Policing Equity, and Anthony Rothert, legal director at the ACLU of Missouri.
The panel explored ways to end profiling practices, including passing ERPA and calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to revise critical Department of Justice profiling guidance that hasn’t been updated since it was released in 2003.
“We have to stop following tragedy with embarrassment,” said Dr. Goff, referring to the lack of action and future planning by the government after profiling tragedies such as Brown’s shooting. He said the public looks to the government for a plan, wanting to see action being taken, and instead is met with confusion and inaction. In fact, the U.S. government doesn’t collect data that would help it gain an understanding of profiling; the first data compiled of police stops and use of excessive force was done this past year by Goff’s Center for Policing Equity.
Crump, who also represents the family of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed African-American teenager shot to death in 2012 in Sanford, Fla., by a man who was later acquitted in the killing, said, “It is bad when these killers profile our children. It is worse when this system profiles our children.”
In closing, Zirkin reinforced the necessity of moving ERPA forward and updating the guidance, which she said should “eliminate the current national security and border integrity loopholes and ban profiling based on religion and national origin. When both of these things happen we will be just one step closer to addressing larger issues of discrimination plaguing communities of color.”
Watch the entire briefing below: