A Gray Plan on Race

Governor Gray Davis announced an end to racial profiling in the State of California last week. Davis signed a bill that will require police officers to give motorists stopped without charge a business card if the motorist requests one, and require police officers to attend more diversity training. If this doesn't sound like an end to racial profiling to you, you're right. Davis actually vetoed a bill that would have required police officers to record the race of every motorist pulled over in routine traffic stops. While this measure wouldn't have ended racial profiling either, it would have provided evidence about the prevalence of racism on certain police forces--racism which could then be addressed.

While the bill that Davis signed will provide motorists who feel that they were the victim of racial profiling with more means to press charges, it will not provide vital data on the prevalence of the practice. Davis claimed that the data gathering would be too costly, and that racial profiling is used only by a few "bad" cops targeting minorities for picayune offenses like busted taillights. Once pulled over, the cops would search the car--all perfectly legal, but with the specter of selective enforcement.

Racial profiling is a practice clearly racist in character. Police departments who tacitly condone racial profiling stop minorities far out of proportion to other drivers for no reason other than the color of their skin. The practice has become knows as "driving while black or brown," the only charge of which the motorists seem to be guilty. The courts have consistently maintained the unconstitutionality of the practice, with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in April that police must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred before they can stop someone on the street or in a car.


Incidents of racial profiling have been reported all over the country, and lawsuits have been filed in states ranging from New Jersey and Florida to Illinois. These cases seem to show that racial profiling is in fact a widespread problem.

Given the unlawful nature of the practice and its widespread abuse, it seems only natural for states to take steps to eliminate it from their police forces. While the California bill that passed is a small step in the right direction, it is unfortunate that the data collection will not occur. Social ills flourish outside the sharp focus of scientific scrutiny. A quote popularly attributed to Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Class of 1877, says it best: "Sunshine is the best disinfectant." The ability to target police forces that use racial profiling for training and intervention would be invaluable in the fight to combat racism nationwide.

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