Racial Profiling: Driving While Black
For years, the Black community believed that Black Americans were routinely and disproportionately stopped by police officers while driving in their cars.
Statistical evidence now supports the anecdotal evidence that had been fermenting for so many years.
For example, one scholar conducted a study in New Jersey which concluded that from 1988 to 1991, more than 73% of the persons stopped and arrested while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike were Black. Shockingly, less than 14% of the cars on the Turnpike even carried a Black person – whether as a passenger or driver.
Other studies have come to the same findings and conclusions, and more and more reports of such evidence has been reported as the problem becomes widely known.
Racial profiling affects the victim not just incidentally and individually, but it also affects and reflects many larger societal issues and injustices involving race and African-Americans in particular.
Moreover, racial profiling in general is a phemonomena that has plagued all people of color in America for years.
However, Blacks have been its primary targets. One scholar notes that:
In America, police targeting of Black people for excessive and disproportionate search and seizure is a practice older than the Republic itself. For example, as early as the start of the eighteenth-century, the State of Virginia… permitted its slave patrols to arrest slaves on bare suspicion. By 1738, Virginia’s patrols conducted mandatory searches of the homes of all blacks. The patrols also possessed the power to arrest blacks whose mere presence excited suspicion and to detain any slave found off his master’s property without a pass.”
Other States’ laws were similar in regard to the egregious random stop, search, and seizure of Blacks. Of course, these laws primarily targeted slaves – who were deemed property of their masters under the American law – but a number of the States’ laws also applied to free Blacks.
Our nation’s low regard for the freedom of Blacks in the public spaces of America has not evolved far beyond the 19th century attitude. Indeed, police treatment of Blacks in the streets and public spaces of America resembles the slave patrols of the Old American South in fundamental and shocking ways. As one scholar argues, “Using minor, generally under-enforced traffic violations as a pretext, officers target and stop black and Hispanic motorists because they hope to discover illegal narcotics or other criminal evidence.”
In the wake of September 11th, the issue of widespread racial profiling has reemerged, as fears about terrorism and people of Muslim faith and Middle Eastern origin proliferate.
Not surprisingly, this fear has – anecdotally — begin to spread and now encompasses under its rubric many other people of dark complexion in America. In other words, the racial profiling of Middle Easterners is not just limited to Middle Easterners.
Now, African-Americans, Blacks, Indians, and any other persons with dark skin are being profiled in airports, public transportation venues, and other public places.
Thus, racial profiling is hardly a vestige of the past. It is very much a problem of our modern, very troubled times.
As one scholar argues: “Our society views race as an important, if not determinative, factor in identifying criminals. This view is part of a belief system deeply in American culture that is premised on the superiority of whites and the inferority of blacks.”
Social Work Practice in Racial Profiling Contexts
In this section, the problem – driving while Black – will be discussed from a social work practice/intervention perspective.
Social work values and roles, as well as a Black Perspective, will be integrated into the discussion.
The problem of “driving while Black” has traditionally been approached from a law enforcement or governmental point-of-view. This government viewpoint comes is centered in an aggressive, fear-oriented, conflict-ridden context.
Similarly, critiques of the profiling practice have also been heard from the likes of legal commentators and legal scholars.
While such works are applauded, we also desperately need a social work perspective that argues for social work intervention. Such an approach would be based on a value system of cooperation rather than conflict.
Social work has as its focus the individual – not institutions, groups, or politics. This focus on the individual and her well-being is, of course, balanced against an assessment of the social justice issues at stake.
There are at least three ways that client perspectives are important to…