Arrest the Racism:

ACLU Report on Racial Profiling in America

Racial profiling of minority motorists is restoring Jim Crow justice in America, the American Civil Liberties Union said on June 2, in issuing a new report documenting the practice.

In a comprehensive look at the problem, "Driving While Black: Racial Profiling On Our Nation's Highways," the report cites police statistics on traffic stops, ACLU lawsuits, government reports and media stories from around the nation. It is apparent that skin color is being used as a substitute for evidence and a ground for suspicion. Professor David Harris, of the University of Toledo law school in Ohio, was the principal author of the report.

"We are here today to demand an end to racial profiling," said ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser, who spoke at a news conference at the ACLU's national headquarters in downtown Manhattan.

Prof. Harris told the Week Online, "The key factor in DWB is that the courts have moved the law in the direction of allowing police more and more discretion to stop drivers, in order to fight the war on drugs; and police have used this discretion to stop more and more drivers in racially disproportionate ways."

Harris explained that racial profiling has always been a serious problem in this country affecting ethnic minorities, but largely invisible to whites. However, it is only recently that enough attention has been focused on the issue to bring it to the fore of the debate, and that adequate statistics have been compiled to provide objective, irrefutable proof of the problem.

Also, DWB has grown even more serious since the escalation of the "war on drugs" during the past two decades. Harris explained, "As political leaders demanded that law enforcement place an increasing priority on fighting the drug war, [the Driving While Black problem] became worse, and the techniques were honed."

Harris explained that much of the blame lies on a little-known highway drug interdiction program called "Operation Pipeline," operated since 1986 by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Operation Pipeline has trained approximately 27,000 police officers in 48 participating states to use pretext stops in order to find drugs in vehicles. The use of pretext stops was bolstered in the following decade by a series of Supreme Court decisions allowing the police to use traffic stops as a pretext to "fish" for evidence of wrongdoing. Harris told the Week Online that Operation Pipeline's manuals contain implicit and occasionally explicit racial bias, recommending that officers target ethnic minorities such as Mexicans, Blacks and Jamaicans­­even though the government's own statistics disprove the myth that minorities use drugs at greater rates than whites.

The 43-page report makes five recommendations to end DWB including a call for the US Department of Justice to end the use of racial profiling in federally funded drug interdiction programs, specifically:

  • An end to the use of pretext stops as a crime-fighting tactic;
  • Congressional passage of the federal Traffic Stops Statistics Study Act (S. 821 and H.R. 1443);
  • Passage of remedial legislation in every state;
  • A ban on racial profiling in all federally funded drug interdiction programs; and collection of city-by-city traffic stop data on a voluntary basis.

The ACLU has also established a national toll-free hotline for victims of profiling, 1-877-6-PROFILE, and a web site feature section, including a complaint form and the full text of the report, at

A statewide hotline in California, 1-877-DWB-STOP, advertised in public service announcements on radio stations and on highway billboards, has logged over 1,600 calls since October.