Are Your Students Targets of Racial Profiling?

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It’s summertime, and students have replaced class time with free time. In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, parents and teachers are painfully aware of the widespread racial profiling targeting men of color—particularly younger men who are more apt to be out and about during these summer months.

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has become a glaring example as it faces rising protest of its discriminatory stop-and-frisk program. The program, presented as an effort to lower crime rates, has proven to be blatantly biased. Black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 make up only 4.7 percent of New York City’s population, but they account for 41.6 percent of stops.

New York is far from the only city facing these challenges. Racial profiling—despite being officially prohibited by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and consistently shown to be ineffective—continues to be a divisive force in many police departments, airports and customs offices.

According to a DOJ National Crime Victimization Survey, the number of white, black, and Latino drivers stopped nationally are essentially equal (within a percentage point), but the number of those drivers who are then searched clearly reveals the presence of racial profiling. Of stopped drivers, only 3.6 percent of white drivers are searched compared to 9.5 percent of black drivers.

The ethical and social implications of racial profiling are the most compelling reasons for the practice to be ended. But it is worth noting—in response to those who would make the dangerous argument that the end justifies the means—that it is also completely ineffective. 

William Press, a computer science and integrative biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, stumbled upon a mathematical truth while working on an unrelated project in computational biology—racial profiling is at best no more effective than random sampling, and it may actually be less effective.  The point is brought home by the fact that a mere .1 percent of all stops in the NYPD stop-and-frisk program have resulted in retrieval of a gun. 

So, we are faced with a practice that is not only unethical and socially divisive, but also ineffective. And somehow it continues across our nation.  

Two things must happen if racial profiling is to be recognized for what it really is—racism. First, citizens must speak up against both private and government programs that racially profile. Thousands of people did just this by marching silently on June 17 in New York City to protest the stop-and-frisk program.

Second, educators and parents must address the issue of racial profiling directly with the youths in their lives. To this end, the NAACP has partnered with the National Education Association, Not in Our Town, Not in Our Schools, Teaching Tolerance/The Southern Poverty Law Center, The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Facing History and Ourselves, American Federation of Teachers and Human Rights Educators of the USA Network to provide a growing archive of anti-racial-profiling resources.

From curricula to know-your-rights pocket guides, these resources will inform and empower your students, so they can stand against biased policies that endanger young people and further fracture our society along racial lines.