The death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman is bringing renewed momentum to efforts to end racial profiling by law enforcement—though Zimmerman was not a member of a police authority.
Two Democratic congressmen, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), came together to announce companion versions of the End Racial Profiling Act of 2013. Though it’s legislation they previously pushed in 2011 and that also came before Congress in 2001, 2004 and 2007, the legislators believe the recent furor over Martin’s death might give it a chance for passage this time.
The legislation would counter racial profiling by mandating training for federal law enforcement officials on racial profiling issues, compiling data on all routine and spontaneous investigatory activities at the Department of Justice, providing Justice Department grants for the development and implementation of protocols that discourage profiling and requiring the attorney general to make periodic reports assessing the nature of any ongoing discriminatory profiling practices.
The Senate bill has 15 Democratic co-sponsors: Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), and Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Christopher Coons (Del.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Carl Levin (Mich.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Christopher Murphy (Conn.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.).
In the House, there are 39 co-sponsors, all Democrats. A Conyers spokesman said the congressman was trying to find members of the House GOP who might be interested.
Conyers said though Martin’s death was not the result of a law enforcement encounter, the question of whether he was a victim of racial bias “cannot be separated from the enforcement profiling debate.”
“Ultimately, Trayvon is one of too many individuals across the country who have been victimized by a perception of criminality simply because of their race, ethnicity, religion or national origin,” Conyers said. “These individuals are denied the basic respect and equal treatment that is the right of every American.”
Cardin said the vast majority of law enforcement officers perform their jobs with “professionalism” and “diligence,” but said racial profiling remains legal in far too many states.
“Racial profiling is simply wrong,” he said. “It doesn’t work, it wastes valuable resources and diminishes the willingness of targeted communities from trusting and working with police when the need is real.”
President Obama has also drawn attention to the issue and his own efforts to stop it.
“When I was in Illinois, I passed racial profiling legislation,” the president said during his widely hailed remarks on race after the Zimmerman acquittal. “Initially, the police departments across the state were resistant but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way, that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and in turn be more helpful in applying the law.”
But the National Fraternal Order of Police, the largest law enforcement organization, is against the legislation, calling the End Racial Profiling Act as “unnecessary” and based on the “faulty premise” that racial profiling is a systemic practice.