Racial Profiling in California?

Is it a necessary and convenient tool for officers to be able to pull over people based on their race, or is this a direct violation of our civil rights? These controversial questions have stumped our country post-9/11, causing much debate among the states. California, along with 15 other states, took a side and decided to prohibit racial profiling of both motorists and pedestrians. However, just when steps were finally being taken to stop racial profiling, more and more cases began emerging claiming that people were being victimized by racial profiling.

Simone Wilson published an article in the LA Weekly in November of 2010 describing how the U.S. Department of Justice “chastised the LAPD via snail mail for blatant practice of racial profiling.” The officers defended themselves by admitting “clear-as-day they couldn’t do their job without it.”

Even though California prohibited racial profiling, the Los Angeles Times reported that “as many as 250 profiling complaints are filed every year.” Obviously this would make anyone come to the conclusion that California’s law is not effective and should be enforced more efficiently. So why is there no immediate action being taken? The problem is there is still a divided opinion on whether or not racial profiling is actually something that we should be declaring as wrong, or if there is actually a benefit for regulating crime.

People who see racial profiling as a benefit claim many different types of reasons why it makes it easier for officers to do their job. According to opencongress.org, people argue that racial profiling helps officers narrow down suspects. According to some authorities, every area has a particular ethnic group that is statistically more likely to be guilty of a crime. Some people see these statistics as hints or tools to help officers monitor crime in their areas. In their eyes, officers who pull people over just because their skin color makes them seem suspicious, are just doing their job. To these officers, racial profiling is a way to help keep their cities safe, even if that means pulling over a few innocent people; if they are innocent, they should have nothing to hide, nothing to worry about.

I used to have this same perspective on racial profiling; however, your perspective changes the day you are pulled over for no reason other than the color of your skin.

People against racial profiling claim that the practice is a direct violation of our rights and makes our communities less safe. They claim racial profiling is unconstitutional because it violates the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure without probable cause, and 14th Amendment, which requires “all citizens to be treated equally under the law.”

Along with the violation of our rights, racial profiling could cause officers to focus so much on race that they overlook key evidence in an investigation and avoid focusing on other suspects who do not necessarily fit the common criminal profile. Not only could this cause a problem in criminal investigations but also could potentially promote hate crimes.

Which side is right and which side is wrong? I honestly think the people who have been victimized by racial profiling are the ones who understand how wrong it is the most. I never understood how serious this issue was until I was recently pulled over for no reason at all. It was that moment when I started my research and found websites where many other people shared their stories of their questionable reasons for being pulled over by officers, not only in Los Angeles, but in Irvine as well.

It was that moment when I understood why it was wrong. I am not saying that all police officers are guilty of racial profiling, but I am saying that it should something that should be monitored with strict scrutiny.

Whether that means having officers logging in a detailed report of every traffic stop, or simply finding a more effective way to make officers more aware of the negative effects of racial profiling, we simply need some type of action to be taken. It may not seem as a big issue now, but when you feel the anxiety and nerves overwhelm you as you are being pulled over, and realize that it was simply due to your skin color, that humiliation is indescribable.

Regardless of whether you are innocent or not, people should not be pulled over based on statistics and stereotypes.


Emily Centeno is a first-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at centenoe@uci.edu.