The End Racial Profiling Act of 2007

I just read this bill, which was introduced last week.  Some technical glitches with the legislation aside, I have two overarching reactions. 

First, the supporters of this bill will have a hard time showing that there is a need for this bill (aside from the fact that one of their own—Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.)—was recently the subject of a police stop).  With regard to the federal government, the Justice Department has already issued guidelines that ban the practice in all but the terrorism context; with regard to state and local police, Jack Dunphy is right in his column earlier this week that Heather Mac Donald has demonstrated the dubiousness of the claims that racial profiling occurs there to any appreciable extent.  

Second, besides the fact that sometimes (as even this bill acknowledges) race, national origin, and religion can be appropriate factors for law-enforcement officers to consider, the other pitfall in this area is that legitimate, nondiscriminatory police strategies that happen to have a disproportionate impact on this or that group ought not to be discouraged.  Alas, this bill does that in two ways:  by mandating data collection by beat cops, and by declaring that “a disparate impact on racial, ethnic, or religious minorities shall constitute prima facie evidence of a violation of this title.”  This last provision, by the way, ironically makes the bill itself of dubious constitutionality, since it happily accepts law-enforcement activities that have a disparate impact on some racial, ethnic, and religious groups, but not those that have a disparate impact on others.

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