As the debate around the recently passed immigration law in Arizona clearly demonstrates, racial and religious profiling continues to be a real and urgent problem across the United States. Washington State is not immune to the scourge of this discriminatory behavior by law enforcement officials. Last October, it came to light that, instead of collecting information only about people with direct links to national security threats, FBI agents scrutinized Somali communities across the country, including in Seattle. Within 150 miles of our northern border, in counties such as Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom, Latino, Arab and Muslim communities face an everyday threat of profiling from both border patrol agents and ICE officials. And right here in Seattle, we continue to see racial disparity that affects African Americans, Asians and other communities of color.
Although racial profiling has been unfairly familiar to African Americans and others for decades, mainstream America has only started to acknowledge the issue in recent decades. Referred to as ‘driving while black or brown,’ racial profiling surfaced in popular culture long before law enforcement acknowledged the issue.
After Sept. 11, the U.S. government began an era of blatant profiling, rounding up more than 1,200 Arab, South Asian and Muslim men and holding them without charges.
This didn’t make us safer. In fact, the mass roundup in the United States after 9-11 never apprehended anyone linked to the attacks. An inspector general’s report later revealed that many of the detainees had been blocked from contacting attorneys and that some of them had been beaten or otherwise physically abused by guards in federal prisons.
Unfortunately, the scope of racial profiling is expanding. As the responsibility for enforcing immigration laws and finding undocumented immigrants has been increasingly delegated to state and local police, evidence of increased racial profiling is emerging across the country. Bad immigration laws like the one in Arizona threaten to sanction racial and religious profiling by the local police.
History has shown that using race as a substitute for criminal behavior is bad policy. Research has shown that focusing on behavior rather than race is smart law enforcement.
When law enforcement officers abolish race as a factor and instead rely on behavior, they catch more criminals. In the late 1990s the U.S. Customs Service eliminated the use of race in deciding which individuals to stop and search for illegal contraband and instead began focusing on suspicious behavior. Studies showed that this shift to “color-blind profiling techniques” increased the rate at which searches lead to the discovery of illegal contraband or activity by more than 300 percent.
In response to the revelation about FBI profiling of Somalis last October, Farhana Khera, President of Muslim Advocates and a commissioner in the upcoming “Racial Profiling: Face the Truth Hearing” on May 8th, noted that the F.B.I. was harassing Muslim Americans by singling them out for scrutiny. “We think the F.B.I. should be focused on following actual leads rather than putting entire communities under the microscope,” Ms. Khera said to the New York Times.
On May 8, from 12 noon to 4 p.m., we will hold the first of six hearings across the country on racial profiling. OneAmerica, in conjunction with The Rights Working Group, will host a hearing in at the Burlington Public Library in Burlington, WA on profiling in diverse immigration communities. We expect that Arabs, Muslims, South Asians, Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans will all come forward to share the shared but unjust experience of being targeted because of racial, religious or ethnic backgrounds. We will be coming together to make our voices heard and to call for an end to racial profiling. I will be joining a distinguished panel of national and local commissioners who will listen to the testimony, including Monica Ramirez, Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at DOJ; Karen Narasaki, Executive Director of Asian American Justice Center; Farhana Khera, Executive Director of Muslim Advocates and National Association of Muslim Lawyers, and Judge Steven Gonzalez, King County Superior Court.
We hope community members from across the state will join us. It is time to tell our story.