Racial profiling is not a legitimate basis for criminal investigations. When law enforcement targets particular people for scrutiny because of race, that flies in the face of the 14th Amendment’s commitment to treat everyone equally. Studies have shown that profiling is ineffective at crime prevention or detection, and yet it crowds out other, better strategies.
And now, officials in North Carolina have been accused of using racial profiling for traffic stops in Alamance County.
A two-year investigation by the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department found a “pattern of racial profiling” in how the Alamance County sheriff’s department conducts traffic stops. Sheriff’s deputies have made searching for illegal immigrants a top priority, and the Justice Department says that as a consequence Latino drivers are four to ten times more likely to be pulled over for traffic violations.
Thomas E. Perez, the assistant U.S. attorney general in the civil rights division, told reporters that Latinos were more likely than Caucasians to be arrested at traffic checkpoints. Those who were arrested faced additional layers of racial discrimination.
A letter from the Civil Rights Division delivered to the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office declares that the agency has engaged in “a pattern or practice of violations of the United States Constitution and federal law.” The letter, signed by Perez, claims that these “discriminatory activities are intentional and motivated by the Sheriff’s prejudices against Latinos.”
Sheriff Terry S. Johnson has denied the accusations. He told reporters that the investigation was politically motivated. “We have never discriminated against Spanish speaking persons in any way, shape or form,” the sheriff said in a public statement. “The Obama administration has decided to continue to wage war on local law enforcement.”
Two factors complicate the situation in Alamance County:
- North Carolina demographics. Population statistics have been changing dramatically in North Carolina over the past twenty years. During that time, the number of Hispanic residents in North Carolina increased over 900 percent. This sudden change in racial composition has left some white residents uneasy.
- Federal programs granting immigration enforcement authority to localities. Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act allows the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies. These agreements allow officers to identify and detain immigration offenders. Alamance County has been a partner with ICE under the Section 287(g) program, a relationship that has been controversial for some time.
What does this mean to you?
An illegal traffic stop potentially taints any criminal evidence that follows. If you have been arrested in North Carolina following a traffic stop, let your defense attorney know immediately if you think racial profiling may have been a factor. You cannot be found guilty of a crime if the law enforcement investigation seriously damaged your fundamental civil rights.