Justice Dept. Bans Federal Law Enforcement from Profiling People Based on Their Religion, Gender, Country of Origin and Sexual Orientation

In the midst of an explosive racial climate across the country, Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that the federal government has banned the use of profiling by federal law enforcement on the basis of religion, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

The feds since 2003 have banned racial and ethnic profiling by federal law enforcement. The new guidelines, which had reportedly been under review for months and which Holder was eager to release before he stepped down from the attorney general post likely early next year, extend the profiling ban to the other categories.

Holder has been deeply involved during his AG tenure in trying to transform the criminal justice system to make it fairer to African-Americans and other people of color, particularly in sentencing guidelines but also in the behavior of local police departments. Last week he traveled to Cleveland to announce the results of a Justice probe of the Cleveland police department. Just as the Cleveland police are under intense attack for the killing of a 12-year-old Black boy, Tamir Rice, who had been playing with a toy gun, Holder swept into town and revealed that the department was guilty of a pattern of excessive and inappropriate abuse, particularly toward Blacks.

The new Justice guidelines apply to federal law enforcement officers making routine or spontaneous law enforcement decisions like traffic stops. They are banned from stopping someone strictly because of their religion, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity—in addition to their race or ethnicity.

But while the new rules apply to several components of the Department of Homeland Security, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Coast Guard, they won’t apply to airport screening or scrutiny of travelers arriving at the border—an area where people constantly complain of profiling and harassment, particularly travelers who appear to Muslim or from Arab countries.

The guidelines also don’t apply to the agents of the Secret Service, a division of Homeland Security that protects current and former national leaders and their families, such as the President, past presidents, vice presidents, presidential candidates, visiting heads of state and foreign embassies.

The new guidelines, the result of a five-year process, go beyond what is otherwise required by federal law, according to the Justice Department.

“Profiling by law enforcement is not only wrong, it is profoundly misguided and ineffective, because it wastes precious resources and undermines the public trust,” Holder said. “Particularly in light of certain recent incidents we’ve seen at the local level — and the widespread concerns about trust in the criminal justice process which so many have raised throughout the nation — it’s imperative that we take every possible action to institute strong and sound policing practices.”

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