Two lawmakers joined civil rights leaders Tuesday to push a bill prohibiting law enforcement officers from engaging in racial profiling and mandating training on profiling as part of all federal law enforcement training.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) held a press conference with representatives from the NAACP and other civil rights groups to promote the bill, which Conyers introduced in the House on Tuesday. Cardin introduced the bill in the Senate in May.
The heart of the proposal would prohibit federal, state, and local law enforcement from engaging from racial profiling, except in cases where specific, trustworthy information has been provided (such as a witness identifying a crime suspect by their race):
This Title would ban racial profiling, defined as the practice of a law enforcement agent or agency relying, to any degree, on race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin in selecting which individuals to subject to routine or spontaneous investigatory activities, or in deciding upon the scope and substance of law enforcement activity following the initial investigatory procedure, except when there is trustworthy information, relevant to the locality and time frame, that links persons of a particular race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin to an identified criminal incident or scheme.
The proposal authorizes the attorney general to withhold federal funding from enforcement agencies found not to be in compliance with the law.
Cardin’s Senate bill has gathered 16 cosponsors. Similar proposals have failed to gain momentum in Congress over the past decade, but supporters are touting the national reaction to the not guilty verdict handed down to George Zimmerman as offering new hope to the proposal.
“Though the death of Trayvon Martin was not the result of a law enforcement encounter, the issues of race and reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct are so closely linked in the minds of the public that his death cannot be separated from the law enforcement profiling debate,” Conyers said at the news conference.
The issue has also been raised in the New York City mayoral campaign, as candidates have weighed in on the New York Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk program. On Monday, William C. Thompson, Jr., the only black candidate in the race, drew parallels between the program and Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin, saying they were driven by the same default suspicion that minorities are criminals. A New York Civil Liberties Union report in 2012 showed that 87 percent of all stops were of blacks and Latinos.
Joseph Diebold is an intern with ThinkProgress.