Contrary to the rants of many a wing-nut talk show host, racial profiling is alive and well in the U.S., and in Arizona specifically. The practice has been spotlighted of late by the heavy-handed tactics of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his racially motivated anti-illegal immigrant sweeps in the Valley. But Joe certainly didn't invent racial profiling, as is demonstrated by a report issued today by the Arizona ACLU entitled Driving while Black or Brown, which analyzes data collected by the State of Arizona's Department of Public Safety.
DPS's data-collection on its traffic stops is required as the result of a class-action lawsuit filed in 2001 by the ACLU, Arnold v. Arizona Department of Public Safety. The suit was settled in 2006. As part of the settlement, DPS has to keep stats on its stops, and obtain written permission from drivers on all so-called "consent searches." That's when Johnny Law pulls you over for making a wrong turn and then asks if he can rummage around in your vehicle, looking for that pot pipe under your seat or that old Mary Jane seed in your car ashtray.
In any case, the report covers DPS highway stops and vehicle searches that took place between July 1, 2006 and June 30, 2007. According to Arizona ACLU director Alessandra Soler Meetze, the report demonstrates that,
"Searches being conducted by the majority of DPS officers continue to target minorities, despite the fact that people of color are less likely than whites to be transporting drugs, weapons or other illegal contraband."
Meetze points out that, "The report also shows that minorities are detained for longer periods of time after being stopped by DPS officers."
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Essentially, the study demonstrates that DPS officers treated people of different ethnic and racial groups unequally. African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics stopped by DPS were more likely to be searched than Whites, even though Whites had higher rates of transporting contraband, according to the report's findings. Minorities were also likely to be stopped for longer periods of time by DPS.
In its executive findings, the report observes,"This unequal treatment was not justified by higher contraband seizure rates from minority motorists."
This conclusion belies the shibboleth promulgated by right-wingers that racial profiling is necessary because certain races are more likely to be engaged in criminal activity. The hard data collected by DPS does not bolster this assumption. It definitely does not pay to be any shade darker than white when the po-po are checking you out.
Or as comedian D.L. Hughley has put it so succintly in the past: "Everybody wants to be black until the cops roll up."