What is Racial Profiling? A Brief History
Written by Cooper & Friedman PLLC on June 16, 2021
Police officers and other law enforcement officials (like jailors, sheriffs, etc.) should protect, honor and respect the civil rights of citizens, suspects, inmates and others who are in their care or with whom they interact. Unfortunately, while many of these public servants understand these obligations, some do not. The fact is, some officers negligently or
intentionally violate citizen rights by failing to follow policy, care for individuals in their custody and other means. Racial profiling is at the heart of this issue.
For example, Bryant Mangum, a black startup founder and Southern California resident, has
been pulled over at least 30 times in the past few years. Each time, police handcuff him and
search him, before he is let off without a ticket or sometimes even an explanation.
Every day, police officers subject people of color to unjustified traffic stops, searches, detainment, and
mistreatment, all at the will of American law enforcement. This is racial profiling, “the law
enforcement practice of using race, ethnicity, national origin, or religious appearance as one
factor, among others, when police decide which people are suspicious enough to warrant police
stops, questioning, frisks, searches, and other routine police practices.” The constant threat of
racial profiling can erode a person’s feeling of agency and safety.
History of Racial Profiling
Racial profiling in the United States is certainly not a new concept, but its modern manifestation started at the tail end of the 20th century. In the mid-80s, a Florida state trooper named Bob Vogel developed a criterion of racially-motivated “visual cues” for identifying potential drug-users on the road. After gaining some attention, the DEA also developed their own racial profiling system based on Vogel’s methodology: Operation Pipeline. The DEA brought Operation Pipeline to millions of police officers around the country, informing and enforcing decades of roadside discrimination.
In the early ‘90s, several key court cases started to bring attention to Operation Pipeline, prompting a formal study headed by Dr. John Lamberth of Temple University. Lamberth’s research found that police officers disproportionately target African American drivers on the road: while 17% of all drivers in Maryland were African American, they comprised nearly three fourths or 72% of those pulled-over.
In 1996, a racial profiling case went all the way to the Supreme Court: Whren Vs. United States. In this case, two young African American men were driving a sports car. Several police officers tasked with drug enforcement decided to follow them, despite having no real grounds or duty to do so. After the young men committed a mild traffic violation, the police immediately pulled them over, using the traffic violation as pretext. The defendants argued that the police violated their fourth amendment rights, as the police had no initial probable cause to follow their vehicle. However, the Supreme Court disagreed, signaling that racial profiling at traffic stops could be permissible.
Racial Profiling Studies
After this notable case, researchers conducted further studies concerning racial profiling. Researchers found that police districts who utilized racial profiling tactics had worse results than those who proportionately targeted white people. That is to say, police were more likely to find white people with drugs than minorities. At the end of the 1990s, the majority of Americans acknowledged that racial profiling was a real problem that needed a remedy. Just as traction was being built, 9/11 occurred. American law enforcement then had a heightened interest in targeting potential “terrorists” and minorities. Illegal immigration and undocumented citizens also became a prominent concern, shaping the entire development of 21st century policing policy. While racial profiling and race-based discrimination is illegal, it’s still alive and well on American roadways.
Racial Profiling in Kentucky and Southern Indiana
If you have been a victim of racial or discriminatory treatment in the State of Kentucky or southern Indiana, the attorneys at Cooper and Friedman PLLC can offer experienced legal help. Most recently Cooper & Friedman together with attorney Greg Simms are representing the Estate of D’Juantez Mitchell, a young African American man who was fatally shot by an officer of the Louisville Metro Police Department in May 2019. The Department concluded that the
officer acted properly, however, information about the shooting uncovered to date suggests that the Police Investigation was incomplete and in some cases contradictory. Cooper & Friedman and Mr. Simms have filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Mitchell’s estate and 2 young children.