Oppression in America

February 16, 2012

One form of oppression of African Americans is racial profiling commonly known as “driving while black”.  Local and state police are pulling over drivers of color and searching their cars more often than white drivers.  Recent studies have shown that African American drivers are three times as likely to be searched, two times as likely to be arrested, and four times as likely to experience the threat or use of force then other drivers. African American drivers are more likely to be stopped and less likely to have any contraband then other drivers.

A “profile” is set of facts such as known conditions and observable behavior that indicate a particular individual may be engaged in criminal activity. Racial profiling must include racially or ethnically discriminatory acts and discriminatory omissions on part of law enforcement.   During the late 1970’s officers started using profiling to identify drug traffickers.  In 1985 the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles issued a guideline saying what the common characteristics of drug couriers were and what ethnic groups were associated with the drug trade.

The fourth amendment requires probable cause or reasonable suspicion to pull a driver over but recent cases have allowed police to fish for evidence. In 1996 the U.S. Supreme court helped Police Officers to continue profiling drivers. In the case of Whren V. U.S. the Supreme Court declared that any traffic offense committed by a drive was a legitimate legal basis for a stop regardless of the officer’s state of mind. There have been countless stories of African Americans being pulled over for minor infractions or made up excuses. They are humiliated and their cars are searched.

Many drivers get tickets but too often the outcome is death. Some examples of these are as follows. In Pennsylvania, October of 1995, a thirty-one year old African American male was pulled over in his cousins Jaguar in a predominately white neighborhood.  He was beaten to death by five officers. In New York, February of 1999 an unarmed twenty-two year old male was killed where he lived. Four white officers who were apart of New York City’s policing street crime unit were involved in the incident. They followed an aggressive stop and frisk policy against African Americans called “we own the night”. In all forty-one   bullets were fired with nineteen hitting the victim. All four men were acquitted. Another incident happened in Ohio, April of 2001, a nineteen year old African American male was shot to death.  He had fourteen misdemeanor warrants for traffic violations including failure to wear a seat belt. 

Racial profiling doesn’t just focus on drivers it also includes pedestrians, shopping, at the worksite, and youths on bicycles. A December 1999 report from New York City Police Department found that African Americans were stopped and frisked more often the white pedestrians. The study concluded that African Americans made up 25.6% of the population and 50.6% of the pedestrians that were frisked were African Americans.  In around half of the precincts in New York, the majority of the population is white. Of thirty-six precincts only thirteen were in top half showing stops.

While shopping women of color are targeted by security and employees. The immigration and naturalization service has a history of targeting ethnic groups of color for undocumented labor violations. Young African American males have been searched while riding their bicycles.  In some cases the bikes have been seized and later sold.

Acknowledging that a problem exists is the most important step in addressing the issue of racial profiling in traffic stops.  When it comes to law enforcement or anywhere else, the use of racial stereotypes has no place. The ACLU has filed lawsuits in eight states. In 1999 North Carolina a bill was passed requiring data on all traffic stops. Similar bills have been passed in twelve other states including Massachusetts. In   February of 2001 President George W Bush directed that racial profiling be banned. He declared it was wrong and he would end it in America. President Bush said that all routine patrol duties must be carried out without consideration of race.

The Department of Justice issued its Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies forbidding racial profiling by federal law enforcement officials in June 2003. In 1993 the ACLU filed a class action suit for Wilkins V. Maryland State. An African American male was stopped, searched, and detained. The end result was the state of Maryland was required to maintain computer records of searches monitoring for patterns of discrimination.

The role of the police is to protect and serve. Officers shouldn’t be allowed to decide who is eligible for protection and who is not. Laws need to be passed in all states concerning traffic stops. The U.S department of justice needs to make sure that any crime fighting programs do not encourage racially biased law enforcement.


Vechicle stops by police for driving while black: common problems and some tentative solutions.

 An article from: Journal of Criminal Justice  (B.R. Kowalski) (R.J. Lundman)








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