Justice Department to revise its stance on racial profiling

BY Ruth Tam  January 16, 2014 at 2:30 PM EST
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to discuss revising the Justice Department’s stance on racial profiling. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Under pressure from civil rights groups and Congressional Democrats, the Justice Department will revise its stance on racial profiling, reports The New York Times. That revision will restrict officials from considering religion, national origin, gender and sexual orientation in their investigations.

The Justice Department has been working on the revision for several years. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder himself has spoken out about his intention to modify the Department’s definition of racial profiling, including in a 2010 speech where he pledged to end racial profiling “once and for all.”

“Racial profiling is wrong. It can leave a lasting scar on communities and individuals. And it is, quite simply, bad policing – whatever city, whatever state.”

While the changes have not been made public, the New York Times made clear that Holder discussed his intentions with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Wednesday. De Blasio, the city’s mayor of January 1, was elected partly on a platform of ending the stop-and-frisk policy. In August, a federal judge ruled that strategy unconstitutional, claiming that the tactic violates the constitutional rights of minorities. Last November, the attorney general filed a brief in the case against the policy, suggesting the need for federal monitoring.

Holder has not been alone in criticizing racial profiling. In early 2001, President George W. Bush condemned the practice and promised to see its end. Likewise, John Ashcroft, the attorney general under Bush, called racial profiling unconstitutional in 2002. But after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, dozens of Muslim men with no ties to terrorism were arrested and detained and thousands were required to register their nationalities with authorities.

With the Justice Department facing increasing demands to address civil rights issues, Holder has stressed his commitment to civil liberties groups. In 2012, he expressed concern over Arizona’s Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act and said that the department would “closely monitor” the impact of the law. Most recently, the Justice department investigated the death of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager widely assumed to have been killed by George Zimmerman because of racial motives.