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Ban on racial profiling

December 8, 2014

The US Attorney General has announced a new ban on racial profiling by federal officers. The measure is a welcome change, but not nearly enough, say civil rights advocates.

Eric Holder
Image: Reuters/Gary Cameron

After days of unrest over the failure to indict two white police officers over the deaths of two unarmed African Americans, on Monday Barack Obama's administration issued a ban on racial profiling by law enforcement. The measure forbids federal officers from profiling individuals based on their ethnicity, religion, race, nationality, sexual orientation or gender.

That means, for example, that identity checks conducted in a "routine" or "spontaneous" manner based on race, gender or religion will be forbidden, unless individuals concerned are suspected of criminal activity.

Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled the new guidelines, referencing the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City in his presentation: "In light of certain recent incidents we've seen at the local level - and the widespread concerns about trust in the criminal justice process which so many have raised throughout the nation - it's imperative that we take every possible action to institute strong and sound policing practices."

'Signature accomplishment' of Holder's reign

The policy replaces the outdated Bush-administration rules, and requires federal agencies to provide training and collect data on complaints of racial profiling. The new guidelines were not in immediate response to the protests over the failure to indict the police officers responsible for the deaths of Brown and Garner, but were rather the end result of a five-year review process.

The new rules provide concrete examples of what is and isn't acceptable, though border checkpoints and airport security will be exempt - a move that has disappointed civil rights activists. Muslim Advocates, a national organization, made a statement saying that federal law enforcement could still "map communities based on race, ethnicity or religion."

A Justice Department spokesman said that the new rules are "one of the signature accomplishments" of Holder's tenure. #link:17955948:Holder is stepping down in the next few weeks after five years as attorney general. Holder said this measure "significantly enhances protections of civil rights" of Americans, even more so than what is required by the constitution.

es/sb (AFP, AP)