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Sen. Cardin introduces bill to ban racial profiling (which would prohibit provisions of Alabama’s HB 56 from being enforced)

Guest Blogger: Tong Lee, Director of Membership Services for the Rights Working Group

On Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) of 2011.  If passed, the bill would prohibit the use of profiling based on race, religion, ethnicity and national origin by any federal, state, local or Indian tribal law enforcement agency. This is a significant step forward in over a decade since the NAACP, ACLU, their allies, and affected community members have advocated endlessly for the bill’s introduction and passage.  With this introduction, it is now critical for the Senate to pass the bill.  Email your Senator and tell them to pass the End Racial Profiling Act.

There are many positive provisions in the bill.  The bill would also institute mandatory training on profiling for law enforcement agents; require data collection and monitoring; create privacy protections for individuals whose data is collected; implement substantive procedures for responding to profiling complaints and a private right of action for victims of profiling.

Far too often, communities of color know first-hand the experience of being racially profiled by law enforcement agencies. If the bill passes, it could have a significant impact on communities. The bill is intended to prohibit:

  • Stops and frisks by local law enforcement based on ethnicity;
  • Surveillance by law enforcement agencies of specific neighborhoods and communities, like the recent discovery of the New York Police Department’s monitoring of Muslim neighborhoods in New York after the 9/11 attacks; and
  • States from enacting laws requiring residents to show proof of immigration status, such as Alabama’s H.B. 56, Georgia’s H.B. 56 and Arizona’s S.B. 1070.

With the bill’s introduction, we now need the Senate to pass it.  Contact your Senators and tell them to co-sponsor the End Racial Profiling Act.  The following Senators have co-sponsored the bill: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D-CT), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

 

Reflecting on our loss and reclaiming our rights- new report and video on racial profiling post 9/11

From the Rights Working Group-

Last week, the Rights Working Group released a new report, Reclaiming Our Rights: Reflections on Racial Profiling in a Post-9/11 America at a press conference. The report offers a variety of perspectives on the expansion of racial profiling in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and how the federal government’s increased powers of surveillance, detention and access to private information impacted people of Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian descent along with migrants and people thought to be migrants.  The report also discusses how the issue of racial profiling – a longtime problem in black, Native American and Latino communities – became more widespread and far-reaching after 9/11 and how the broad congressional support for passing the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) in the summer of 2001 diminished. The report makes recommendations to the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and Congress – among them is passage of ERPA – that would seek to not only prohibit racial profiling but provide greater oversight of law enforcement with regard to civil rights protections. [Read Report Here]

As a complimentary multimedia piece to the report, Breakthrough and Rights Working Group released Checkpoint Nation?  Building Community Across Borders last week. Filmed in Arizona, the documentary is about racial profiling, multiracial solidarity, and immigration enforcement at the border.

Early one morning, Maria—then nine months pregnant—and her family were stopped by the police for no discernible reason. A special breakfast outing became a nightmare—and at one of the most intimate moments of her life, Maria found a team of immigration agents—not her husband—by her side.

Maria’s chilling story is the centerpiece of “Checkpoint Nation?” a documentary that depicts the reality of post-9/11 racial profiling — as mandated by laws such as SB 1070 in Arizona, which are now being imitated and implemented nationwide — along with the new and strengthening alliances of diverse groups committed to racial justice.

Set in the U.S./Mexico border area near Tucson, Arizona, a region that sees more and more migrant deaths every year, the video explores the idea that the way to move forward is to find connections and build coalitions among between diverse groups of allies — including Muslim-, South Asian-, African-, and Latino-Americans; civil rights lawyers and media activists — that have identified with each other’s histories and united in the common goals of justice, equality, and respect for all.

Ten years after 9/11, there is an urgent need to pass federal legislation to ban all forms of racial profiling, and to end programs and policies that result in racial profiling.  If you haven’t already, sign the petition to tell President Obama that it is time to end racial profiling.  [Sign the Petition Here]

Here’s what you can do to join the chorus calling for an end to racial profiling:


Racial profiling: Degrading, unconstitutional and ineffective

Observations by Restore Fairness’ Zebunnisa Burki-

Have you ever been told that you don’t look like an American? Have you ever been stopped and searched by police just for driving around in a neighborhood? Or felt discriminated at airports? I have. It might be difficult for most people to know what its like to feel singled out. But this is what a lot of people of African-American, Hispanic, Arab and Asian and South Asian descent face when going about their lives in the US.

Using this as the premise, Breakthrough partnered with the Rights Working Group,  the Network of Arab-American Professionals (NAAP) and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) on Tuesday, December 7th, at the NYU School of Law, for a screening of two documentaries: Face the Truth: Racial profiling across America, produced by Breakthrough and the Rights Working Group, and Americans on Hold: Profiling, Prejudice and National Security, produced by CHRGJ. The screenings were part of the Rights Working Group’s “conversations on racial profiling” and were followed by an engaging Q&A session with filmmakers and activists, Madhuri Mohindar from Breakthrough, Nadine Wahab from the Rights Working Group, and Amna Akbar from CHRGJ, NYU.

Face the Truth, produced in September 2010, narrates the story of Karwan Abdul Kader, a Kurdish immigrant, who was stopped and stripped by law enforcement officials just because he was in the wrong neighborhood and looked “different.” Through his story and those of Juana Villegas and Lena Masri, Face the Truth serves as a reminder that even the land of opportunity doesn’t always support diversity. The film also makes an honest attempt to understand the fraught relationship between immigrants and local law enforcement by interviewing police officials and civil society activists.

Americans on Hold, the second documentary that screened that evening, follows a similar structure, narrating the personal stories of Anila Ali, a Pakistani immigrant community organizer and Zuhair Mahd, a visually challenged Jordanian immigrant. The film’s focus is immigration, and citizenship and race in the US, especially when looked at in light of recent counter terrorism legislation and policies.

Post 9/11, the U.S. witnessed an increase in racial profiling against people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, mostly due to new counter-terrorism measures. These include the now infamous FBI name check and National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, better known as NSEERS, which allows authorities to target individuals from 25 specific countries, most of which are Muslim.

According to Nadine Wahab, domestic law in the US is often ambiguous on racial profiling. Policies such as NSEERS, along with the TSA’s recently tightened “counter terrorism” measures; Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the Secure Communities program, and the general atmosphere of racial bias by law enforcement, have led to extreme distrust among immigrant and other vulnerable/minority communities.

What is most disturbing about the new developments is the encouragement and support for policies such as full body scans and pat downs by the TSA, especially as propagated by mainstream media, politicians and political movements. A good example of this is an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that does its best to highlight the “benefits” of TSA’s stricter security measures.

The films (and the discussion after) served as a reminder that racial profiling and bias are not the lot of any one community. These are issues that continue to affect all communities of color. Black/Latino/Arab/South Asian/Asian- these targeted communities all face the same discrimination but often remain cocooned in their own niche spaces, finding it difficult to reach out to each other.

In the Q&A that followed the screening, there was a strong consensus on the need for all targeted communities to stand united and work for legislation such as End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) and the DREAM Act. To do this, it is important to look at the “war on terror”and the “war on drugs” through the intersectional lenses of race and class. Linda Sarsour of the AACP rightly pointed out that immigrant communities that were most affected were those who were also financially less well off than others indicating this to be as much an issue of class as it is of race.

During the conversations following the screenings, there was a palpable sense of empowerment engendered as a result of sharing stories of racial injustice, further highlighting the need for our different communities to work together on the many unresolved issues related to immigrants’ rights and racial bias. Issues such as stop and frisk policies, class, race and national legislation dominated the discussion.

The audience, coming from a number of different racial backgrounds, did not hesitate from commenting, sharing personal stories, and asking questions. The most interesting part of the evening were the personal accounts of racial profiling shared by a number of audience members. From stories of stop and frisk by police, and informants tracking down and interrogating Muslim men in mosques, to horrifying stories of entrapment by the FBI, the cathartic energy of the stories became apparent as time went by.

As someone who is used to the natural fear that one feels traveling in and out of the US, to me, the evening was an exercise in building confidence and hope. To see people with Hispanic, Arab Muslim, African American, and South Asian backgrounds coming together and discussing ways to collaborate on immigration and race issues with a unified voice, is an encouraging sign. It felt like the beginning of an understanding that racial prejudice and bias touches more than one community, nationality and ethnicity—the beginning of something better.

Photo courtesy of Press TV

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Powerful racial profiling documentary screened at Congressional Briefing

Breakthrough’s Restore Fairness campaign showcased its powerful new documentary, ‘Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America’ at a briefing for Congressional staff on Racial and Religious Profiling in Washington, D.C. on Thursday September 30th. The documentary brings to life a new report by the Rights Working Group that was released along with 350 local and national partners on the one year anniversary of the Face the Truth campaign to end racial profiling. Along with compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders, many of whom were present at the briefing. Hilary O. Shelton (NAACP), Dr. Tracie Keesee (Denver Police Department) and Karwan Abdulkader (resident of Nashville subjected to racial profiling) are some of the speakers from the film who spoke in person to the packed room on September 30th.

“I’ve seen a lot in my life but to be degraded… not just stripped of my clothes, being stripped of my dignity, was what I had a problem with.”

As Kurdish American Karwan Abdulkader broke down while relating his story, listeners learned that he was detained and interrogated by local law enforcement for no reason other than driving around in the wrong neighborhood. His is one among many stories featured in ‘Face the Truth,’ a moving video that illustrates the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities.

Racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security. Both the video and report urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA).

Watch the video NOW and urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act.

If we are One Nation, then why is racial profiling still such an issue?

When Huda Alasali tried to board the ferry to Governor’s Island with her children and a friend last Saturday, a New York Waterways employee told her that she could not get on the ferry unless she removed some of her religious attire. She was told that removing her hijab was in compliance with regulations and security reasons, yet these were not rules listed on the dock. New York Waterways later confirmed that they have no rules against ethnic and religious attire. Huda spoke to CBS about her ordeal-

“I said to him, if you have a metal detector, you can check our bags. You can check us. We don’t have nothing with us…He said, No you cannot go on the ferry with all that clothes. Take it off….Truly I felt like, you know what? He thinks that we are terrorists.”

When Huda and other passengers protested and the ferry’s captain got involved, the crew member relented and Huda, her friend and their children did eventually get to Governor’s Island. The damage had been done, however. Even though the authorities apologized and assured Huda that the employee in question has been suspended, she is planning on filing a lawsuit for discrimination. “I don’t want money…I’m looking for respect,” she told CBS news.

In light of increasing incidents of discrimination such as this one, and that of a New York taxi driver bring stabbed by a customer after saying that he was Muslim, a new 11 minute documentary challenging Americans to “Face the Truth” on race in America becomes more relevant than ever. The documentary accompanies a report by the Rights Working Group examines the devastating impact of religious intolerance and racial profiling.

The documentary and report were screened at a Congressional hearing in D.C. yesterday, attended by advocates, police chiefs, community organizers and legislators, and demonstrated how the humiliating practice of racial profiling does little to make us safer. They urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA).

As the momentum for fair immigration and racial justice grows, this Saturday, October 2, exactly one month before Election Day, more than 100,000 people will gather in Washington, D.C. for One Nation Working Together. The march represents a rapidly growing movement across the United States with more than 170 human rights, civil rights, environmental, labor, peace, youth and faith-based organizations joining with the Latino community to stand up for what America believes in and to mobilize voters for this November.

The march comes on the heels of a comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced in the Senate by Senator Menendez (D-NJ). The bill, co-sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), is a strong workable bill to move the legislative process forward. For the senators who have introduced it, it is a concrete proposal that shows there is no stopping the demand for comprehesnsive immigration reform as a solution to our broken immigration system. Measures include strengthening border security, smart interior enforcement and requiring the estimated undocumented immigrants present in the U.S. to register with the government, pay their taxes, learn English, pay a fine, pass a background check and wait in line for permanent residence.

It’s time for action. As the elections move nearer, there will be political manoeuvrings no doubt, but it is important to stand by beliefs of whats important in America – fairness and justice. Take action now.

Watch the new Restore Fairness documentary and “Face the Truth” about racial profiling

“I’ve seen a lot in my life but to be degraded…  not just stripped of my clothes, being stripped of my dignity, was what I had a problem with.”

Kurdish American Karwan Abdul Kader was stopped and stripped by local law enforcement for no reason other than driving around in the wrong neighborhood. This is one among many stories featured in a powerful new documentary “Face The Truth: Racial Profiling Across America”, produced by Breakthrough’s Restore Fairness campaign and the Rights Working Group, showcasing the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities.

The documentary brings to life a new report by the Rights Working Group released along with 350 local and national partners on the one year anniversary of the Face the Truth campaign to end racial profiling. Both the video and report urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), and are featured in a Congressional briefing on Thursday, September 30th in Washington D.C. attended by advocates, police chiefs and community organizers.

Besides compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders such as Hilary O. Shelton (NAACP), Dr.Tracie Keesee (Division Chief, Denver Police Department) and Karen Narasaki (Asian American Justice Center), all of whom decry racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security.

Together, we can stop the erosion of our fundamental human rights. Watch the video and take action now.

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Human rights in the United States? Where do we stand?

The United States has submitted its first ever report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, a wide ranging report on human rights all 192 members of the United Nations are required to produce. Calling it “a roadmap for our ongoing work within our democratic system to achieve lasting change”, the report stressed the importance of the U.S. political system in safeguarding rights.

According to the Associated Press, “High unemployment rates, hate crime, poverty, poor housing, lack of access to health care and discriminatory hiring practices are among the challenges the report identified as affecting blacks, Latinos, Muslims, South Asians, Native Americans and gays and lesbians in the United States.”

The report was compiled from viewpoints and concerns of hundreds of people representing a diversity of communities and viewpoints at gatherings across the country. One strong focus for concern related to immigration and racial profiling by law enforcement agencies.

According to the report, many Muslim, Arab-American, and South Asian citizens shared their experiences of intolerance. The government expressed the many measures it is undertaking to combat discrimination, including through the Attorney General’s ongoing review of the Justice Department’s 2003 Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies which will recommend any changes that may be warranted. Much more can be done including rehauling the guidance, passing the End Racial Profiling Act and stopping agreements between federal immigration and local police.

The latter point surfaced in the report through reference to Arizona’s new law SB1070 and the 287(g) program, made famous by the anti-immigrant raids and tactics of Sheriff Arpaio. The Department of Homeland Security relies upon programs such as 287(g), Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) which tie up local and state police with immigration enforcement. The report spoke of constant vigilance for safeguards that will prevent racial profiling and civil rights violations. In reality, these programs have inevitably lead to many racial profiling violations, providing an incentive to state and local police to arrest persons who look or sound “foreign” so that their immigration status may be checked.

The report also reference President Obama’s firm commitment to fixing our broken immigration system, a task that seems to be endlessly tied to political manoeuvrings.

Other issues touched upon include problems faced by American Indians and Alaska Natives, with nearly a quarter of Native Americans living in poverty, unemployment with unemployment rates for African Americans at 15.8%, for Hispanics at 12.4%, and for whites at 8.8%, and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute which prevents gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

The Associated Press reports,

The report’s findings were cautiously welcomed by human rights activists but will likely draw fire from conservatives who opposed joining the council.

It is good to see the administration engage in a review of human rights, but more emphasis needs to be laid on fixing immigration, racial profiling concerns, prison conditions, death penalty issues and more.

It’s that time again to talk about racial profiling

There can be victories in the fight to stop racial profiling. But we need communities to come together and speak out against it.

For starters, you can have a conversation along with thousands of others on February 22 and Face the Truth about racial profiling.

While traditionally thought of as targeting the African American community, profiling affects a broad range of communities, including Native American, African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. More and more, it is being practiced in the name of national security. Not only is racial and religious profiling humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, it is unconstitutional, it is an ineffective law enforcement practice, and it continues largely unchecked, violating the human and civil rights of those targeted.

That’s why some of these latest victories are that much more exciting.

In East Haven, Connecticut, stories abound of police abuse against racial minorities, particularly against the Latino community that now comprises 6% of the town’s population. This is only an extension of long history of violence that began with the African American community. So everyone welcomed the decision of of the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the East Haven Police Department after concerned citizens filed complaints about the Department’s profiling and harassment of Latinos.

In a similar victory, a Maryland court ordered the Maryland State Police to turn over records on how they responded to complaints of racial profiling, scoring a victory for the NAACP and ACLU. The ruling has been a long time coming in the battle against the racial profiling practices of the Maryland State Police, often referred to as the “Driving while Black” litigation. Triggered by a phonecall from Robert Wilkins, an African-American attorney who had been stopped, searched and detained by the Maryland police for no specific reason, the NAACP and ACLU filed a complaint which was finally settled in 2003, where they were assured greater training of officers, an easier system to report racial profiling,  and greater transparency. Five years later, with very little improvement on the ground, the groups filed a request to see records of investigations conducted around the complains of racial profiling. The state police refused to make some of the records public, a refusal finally overruled this month by the States second highest court.

Last but not least is a bill introduced in the Georgia Senate prohibiting racial profiling introduced by Senator Gloria Butler. 26 states currently prevent racial profiling of motorists. The bill has come on the heels of extensive advocacy by local organizations like the ACLU of Georgia and their partners who have held town halls and released reports calling attention to the pervasive problem of racial profiling in their state. The story of how Mark Bell, an African American man, was continually harassed by a police car during a simple trip to the grocery store one evening, is but one in a number of cases in which communities of color are harassed and detained by the Cobb County police, resulting in a mistrust of local law enforcement within the community.

So what are you waiting for. These may be success stories but much more needs to be done. Tune in to host a conversation now.

Photo courtesy of NewBlackMan Blog

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