People of color in cities large and small across this nation still live with the day-to-day reality that skin color makes one a suspect in America. Police are more likely to stop and more likely to search motorists who are people of color.
The ACLU is working to combat the practice of making decisions based on the race or ethnicity of an individual. Such racial profiling undermines the principle of equal treatment under the law for all people which is the foundation of our system of justice. A report released by the ACLU last year, "Driving While Black: Racial Profiling On Our Nation's Highways," documents this practice, which has affected tens of thousands of innocent motorists on highways across the country.
Here in Washington, the Legislature just adopted a law advanced by the ACLU of Washington to tackle racial profiling. Washington State Patrol (WSP) Chief Annette Sandberg, a leader on national law enforcement committees on racial profiling, directed WSP in October 1999 voluntarily to begin collecting data on the race, gender, and ethnicity of motorists stopped (WSP accounts for some 700,000 of the state’s 1.7 million annual traffic stops). The new law directs WSP to continue to collect and analyze this data on traffic stops, as well as searches, and to report its findings to the Legislature. Additionally, it calls upon WSP to work with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission to develop criteria and training materials for all other police agencies in the state to use to collect data on traffic stops and searches.
Although this new law is a good first step, there is much more to do. Because the law does not cover local police departments, we are launching a statewide campaign to help communities and their police departments understand the problem of racial profiling and to take action to curb it. Working with civil rights groups around the state, we are encouraging police agencies to commit to the effort of stopping and preventing racial profiling. In addition to the ACLU, groups involved in this campaign include the Washington Commission of African American Affairs, the Washington Commission on Hispanic Affairs, the Washington Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Urban League.
Help us arrest racial profiling in your community. Urge your local government to track the race and gender of people stopped by the police. You can take action now by clicking on the links below and join in this campaign:
- Write to your local police department and county sheriff;
- Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper;
- Report incidents of racial profiling;
- Become a member of the ACLU.
Your support is crucial to success in the effort to ensure that everyone is treated fairly on our state’s streets and highways.