Racial Profiling

Holder Says Feds to End Racial Profiling. Unless He's Declaring an End to the Drug War, No.


War will always have a "disproportionate impact" on the poor.
Credit: North Charleston / photo on flickr

Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder is making the rounds, promising that the Department of Justice will soon reveal new "guidance" to end racial profiling. He went so far in a speech in Atlanta to suggest that the feds will end it "once and for all." Here's a quote from the Atlanta CBS affiliate and Associated Press from his speech yesterday at Ebeneezer Baptist Church:

"In the coming days, I will announce updated Justice Department guidance regarding profiling by federal law enforcement. This will institute rigorous new standards — and robust safeguards — to help end racial profiling, once and for all," Holder said. "This new guidance will codify our commitment to the very highest standards of fair and effective policing." …

"We are dealing with concerns that are truly national in scope and that threaten the entire nation. Broadly speaking, without mutual understanding between citizens – whose rights must be respected – and law enforcement officers – who make tremendous and often-unheralded personal sacrifices every day to preserve public safety – there can be no meaningful progress," Holder said. "Our police officers cannot be seen as an occupying force disconnected from the communities they serve. Bonds that have been broken must be restored. Bonds that never existed must now be created."

Why are the police seen as an "occupying force"? Because the police, hand in hand with the Department of Justice, have been perpetuating the drug war for decades. They're now doing it with actual military equipment! The administration will not announce an end to the drug war, and therefore the "occupation" will continue.

To be fair, the Department of Justice under Holder has made changes to reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing in non-violent drug cases and increase accessibility to federal clemency for non-violent crimes. But as long as there is a drug war, there will be a black market for drugs and money shunted to police departments (including money from Holder's own agency). There will be a drive to get results in a war that cannot possibly ever be won, and therefore a pursuit for low-hanging fruit. That would be poor people without the ability to secure skilled lawyers to protect their interests. And in urban settings that will often end up hitting minorities hardest. That's where communities like Ferguson extract their fines to get the revenue to keep their governments running.

I also suspect the Department of Justice will not announce changes to its asset forfeiture program, where the DOJ shares money and property taken from people suspected of crimes with local law enforcement agencies. The system has proven to be an incubator for police abuse and outright theft from citizens from law enforcement agencies looking to pad their budgets. Yesterday's somewhat lackluster report from the White House about police militarization explored the Equitable Sharing Program and seemed to determine the program had adequate oversight, pointing out that five whole law enforcement agencies have been booted from the program for violations (three of which were civil rights violations). There isn't any sort of indication in the report that the Department of Justice sees any sort of twisted incentives resulting from the very existence of the program.

So nobody should be holding his or her breath at the possibility of large changes. The administration and the Department of Justice still do not acknowledge that the police abuse of communities is a direct result of the power the government has given them or the power of police unions to protect officers from being held responsible for misconduct. Doing so would require believing that government is the cause of—not the solution to—the abuse of minorities.

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