Justice Department Moves To Further Rein In Racial Profiling
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Today, the Justice Department unveils new guidelines to prevent racial profiling by federal law enforcement. These rules apply to a whole alphabet of law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, the DEA, the ATF, ICE. NPR's Carrie Johnson got an advanced copy of the guidelines and she's on the line. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: Remarkable timing here, right after these controversial police encounters involving black men who died in Missouri and in New York City.
JOHNSON: Well, this matter's actually been under study for five years, virtually as soon as President Obama and Eric Holder took office as the Attorney General. So it's not a direct response to the protests we've been seeing around the country. Rather, it's a re-examination of something that's been on the books for a while and it involves guidance to federal law enforcement as they're making routine traffic or street stops, or coming into contact otherwise with people who are somewhat suspicious for some reason.
And what the guidelines say, essentially, is in handling routine stops of people, including traffic stops, authorities cannot use categories of race, religion, sexual orientation and the like, as a basis for stopping somebody. They have to have some other good, legitimate, constitutional reason for doing so.
INSKEEP: And just to put this in blunt terms, you cannot be more likely to stop someone under these rules if the person is black, if the person looks Muslim to you - whatever that even means - if the person looks Arab, that it's just not appropriate according to these rules. Is that right?
JOHNSON: That's exactly right, Steve. With the copy out that - if there's for instance, an all-points bulletin out for a suspect who may have engaged in a robbery or done a carjacking and there are some specific characteristics mentioned in that all-points bulletin, that changes this guidance a little bit. That becomes a legitimate reason to stop folks.
INSKEEP: How, if at all, is this different from the guidance that the Justice Department already has, Carrie Johnson, because some people will recall that under President Bush, more than a decade ago, there was racial profiling that was discussed and it was banned then?
JOHNSON: Yeah, in 2003 President Bush and then Attorney General John Ashcroft banned racial profiling. But there was a sense among civil rights advocates and some Democrats in Congress that those policies just didn't go far enough. And Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to expand this guidance because, he says, profiling is misguided, wrong and ineffective 'cause it wastes - in his view - scarce law enforcement resources on people who don't deserve suspicion.
Holder's been pushing for change and it's accelerated in the last few weeks because Eric Holder, of course, is retiring soon. And he also, based on his own review, expanded categories of protection for the first time to people who are LGBT, religious folks - or folks based on religion - and also gender and sexual orientation.
INSKEEP: If you're just joining us, we're talking with NPR's Carrie Johnson. She has obtained an advanced copy of Justice Department guidelines on racial profiling. You mentioned an exception, Carrie, you said that if there's an all-points bulletin for someone who's described of a particular race, say, that's allowed. That's not considered profiling. Are there other things that are not covered under these prohibitions on racial profiling?
JOHNSON: In fact, Steve, there are some big loopholes mostly regarding the Department of Homeland Security and a couple of agencies there - border patrol agents along the southwest border, TSA agents at airports are still able to take into account some of these categories that are prohibited for other federal agents. And, Steve, the FBI is still able to do mapping, demographic mapping, of Muslim-American communities.
Finally, many state and local police are not covered here. This is federal guidance. But if state and local cops work on federal drug task forces or terrorism task forces, they would be covered. Eric Holder, though - the Attorney General - is going to try to make this model guidance for state and local authorities all across the country. He's going to do a speech Tuesday in Memphis and a lot of talking about this.
INSKEEP: I think you said border patrol agents aren't covered by these rules, the TSA. So basically people letting people in and out of the country, or keeping them, are not covered. What do civil rights groups think about this very briefly?
JOHNSON: Well, the ACLU, for instance, is not very happy about DHS exemptions on the border. They, in essence, say this is a license to profile Latinos. And Muslim advocates are not happy either about this demographic mapping by the FBI.
And finally, Steve, the Sikh coalition, which has done a lot to reform profiling at airports, is not happy about the airport exemption either.
INSKEEP: Carrie, thanks very much.
JOHNSON: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson reporting in advanced here on Justice Department guidelines that prevent many forms, although not all, of racial profiling.