Six years late and too many lives short: Obama & Holder on racial profiling

Stingray Operations: Are Police Tracking Your Cell-Phone Calls?
September 29, 2014
Drone Resister Led from Court in Chains
October 3, 2014
Stingray Operations: Are Police Tracking Your Cell-Phone Calls?
September 29, 2014
Drone Resister Led from Court in Chains
October 3, 2014


Last month’s police crackdown in Ferguson, Missouri revealed to many Americans for the first time how unaccountable police have grown. Around the country, local police forces are effectively militarized, widely discriminate against people of color, and suppress democratic dissent despite its constitutional protection. This week’s announcement of new forthcoming federal guidance by the Justice Department addressing racial profiling — as well as Holder’s decision to leave the Department — are welcome signs. Both, however, come with disturbing implications. Better late than never Proposed changes to the Justice’s Department guidance to law enforcement agencies include prohibiting religious profiling, and closing longstanding loopholes allowing blatant profiling in the context of national security and border integrity. These are intelligent choices, not only for the rights at stake, but also for the national security and border integrity interests that profiling also undermines. The timing, however, is striking. First, why are these changes being implemented on the eve of the Attorney General leaving office? Without being codified in law, the new standards will survive only at the whim of the AG’s successors. Moreover, after President Obama’s work on racial profiling reforms in the Illinois state Senate, why did it take six years for his administration to finally adopt a meaningful position on the issue? The End Racial Profiling Act, which would create meaningful protections against biased policing, has languished in Congress for over a decade, largely because the administration has yet to embrace it. The arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates wasn’t enough. When the president witnessed his friend being profiled outside his own home, he quickly retreated from his initial outrage and, rather than propose any solution at all, invited an unapologetic cop to the White House and bought him a beer. Trayvon Martin’s death was not enough. President Obama spoke in moving terms about his empathy for the victim’s family, and his recognition that if he had a son he would likely resemble him. Yet again, however, the administration offered lip service without embracing proposed solutions. Eric Garner’s death wasn’t enough, even though NYPD officers were caught on tape using illegal chokeholds that left a remarkably polite and unthreatening man dead for an offense that, at most, would warrant a fine. How the winds shift Clinton Allen’s murder wasn’t enough, either. Police in Dallas, Texas killed nearly 70 unarmed men over a decade without ever facing even a single indictment. And while this 25 year old unarmed black man died at the hands of a police officer who had previously falsified police reports, and faced charges for attempted murder and nearly a dozen cases of using excessive force, his death was ultimately not in vain. Michael Brown’s death finally opened the door, after weeks of police violence — and the transparency enabled by social media — vividly brought the brutal, militarized, and racialized suppression of dissent into living rooms across America. What might the president say to the many mothers — from Dallas to Chicago, and from NYC to LA — who have lost their children to police violence and brutality? Like the residents of Ferguson who took the streets, they’re not waiting for President Obama, or anyone else in Washington, to figure it out. Clinton Allen’s mom, Collette Flanagan, refused to listen to empty words from officials. She founded Mothers Against Police Brutality, and is mobilizing mothers around the country who have lost their children to police crimes. As she put it, “This is a movement….We have to duplicate this in every city and we have to support each other.” We need not wring our hands as if profiling were an inevitable problem. Solutions, like local reforms adopted from New York City to Jackson, MS to stop profiling, are sitting in plain sight. Are your local leaders discussing them? Both of the corporate political parties, and their respective candidates and incumbents, share blame for ignoring these solutions. But, like Collette, any frustrated grassroots observer has an opportunity to prompt long overdue action at the local level by reaching out to neighboring communities impacted by similar abuses. That might sound microscopic, but a movement among local coalitions acting around the country is the only way to make sure either that the next Attorney General doesn’t reverse course, or that the next one finishes the job of restoring constitutional limits on law enforcement agencies. If you’ve had enough of arbitrary and violent policing, raise your voice in your community. The BORDC organizing team is available and eager to offer training, materials, introductions to local allies, and resources to enable grassroots events. Further installments in this series will more deeply explore police militarization, biased policing, and the suppression of dissent — as well as how each of these issues invites relatively straightforward policy solutions available to communities able to muster the political will to restore constitutional rights.