University of Pittsburgh
April 16, 2012

Pitt Law Professor Tells U.S. Senate That Racial and Ethnic Profiling Harms Antiterrorism Efforts

David Harris can discuss his testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights on how racial, ethnic, and religious profiling harms counterterrorism efforts by confusing appearance with behavior and costing the United States valuable intelligence information
The hearing will be the Senate’s first on profiling in more than a decade
Contact:  412-624-4147


PITTSBURGH—David Harris, University of Pittsburgh professor of law, will testify at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights titled “Ending Racial Profiling in America” at 10 a.m. tomorrow, April 17, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 226, Washington, D.C. The hearing—called by Richard Durbin, U.S. Senator from Illinois and subcommittee chair—will examine how racial profiling harms efforts to catch criminals and terrorists and what efforts will help to eradicate the practice.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments April 25 on Arizona’s Immigration Law, which has been challenged as not being reconciled with federal immigration laws and policies. Harris, Distinguished Faculty Scholar and associate dean for research in Pitt’s School of Law, is available to provide commentary on how racial profiling harms the ability of law enforcement and security agencies to make the nation safe from crime and terrorist attacks. Following are several points he is available to discuss.

  • According to Harris, focusing on racial, ethnic, or religious appearance does not help law enforcement predict possible criminal or terrorist behavior. On the contrary, it distracts law enforcement from the real task: close observation of behavior.
  • Harris states that well-trained and motivated observers can detect behavior that gives real clues to possible criminal or terrorist conduct. The belief that profiling gives police better odds of catching the bad guys is a myth: The evidence and the data show that using racial or ethnic appearance makes police less accurate and more careless.  
  • Harris explains that current Constitutional law, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, gives virtually no protection against profiling, and in some contexts it even encourages the practice.  
  • According to Harris, two concrete steps will immediately make Americans safer. First, the Congress should pass S. 1670, the End Racial Profiling Act. Second, the U.S. Department of Justice should amend its 2003 “Profiling Guidance” memorandum, which allows profiling to continue in the context of national security and immigration.  

Author of Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work (The New Press, 2002), Harris says that practices like racial and ethnic profiling that break down bonds between police and citizens must be discouraged. “For our police to do the best job they can, they have to be smart on crime, not just tough on crime,” Harris said. “Being smart means using intelligence, and that means cultivating strong relationships and real partnerships with the communities police serve, because the best sources of intelligence are the members of the community.”

Profiles in Injustice led to federal efforts to address profiling and to legislation and voluntary efforts in more than half the states and hundreds of police departments. Harris also is the author of Good Cops: The Case for Preventive Policing (The New Press, 2005), which uses case studies from around the country to show that citizens need not trade liberty for safety: They can be safe from criminals and terrorists without sacrificing their civil rights if law enforcement uses strategies based on prevention.

Harris does professional training for law enforcement officers, judges, and attorneys throughout the nation and internationally and with public officials and citizens’ groups locally and nationally to improve police services and public safety.

Harris writes and comments frequently in the media on police practices, racial profiling, and other criminal justice and national security issues. He has appeared on NBC’s Today show, CBS Sunday Morning, Dateline NBC, and National Public Radio, and he has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times, among other media outlets. In 1996, Harris served as a member of the Civil Liberties Advisory Board to the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. In November, Harris testified at a hearing before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, titled “Twenty-first Century Law Enforcement: How Smart Policing Targets Criminal Behavior.”




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