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A move to combat racial profiling

Attorney general calls for elimination of practice

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After being criticized on his civil rights record during his Senate confirmation hearings, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has made ending racial profiling one of his top priorities.  

March 2, 2001
Web posted at: 1:29 PM EST (1829 GMT)



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Summary: U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, approved for the Cabinet in January after heated questions about his commitment to civil rights, spent much of the past week calling for an end to racial profiling. A day after addressing the Congressional Black Caucus, Ashcroft ordered a comprehensive review by federal law enforcement agencies of the practice of singling out people based on race. The move signaled Ashcroft's latest attempt to assure the nation of his commitment to protecting equality and fair treatment to all. It also follows similar efforts by President George W. Bush, who received 10 percent of the African-American vote in the 2000 election, to shore up support in the black community.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has ordered a review of racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies, a practice denounced by civil rights groups and one Ashcroft vowed to combat during his contentious Senate confirmation hearing.

"It needs to stop," Ashcroft declared Thursday, announcing his support of legislation to ban the practice of singling out people based on their race. "Every American has a right to look to law enforcement officials to protect their rights."

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Calling it "tragic," Ashcroft said justice must not be "dependent upon racial profiling," a system he said undermines the trust between law enforcement authorities and the public.

Ashcroft -- whose nomination for attorney general came under fire from Democrats who accused the former senator from Missouri of being insensitive to minorities -- made his announcement two days after President George W. Bush told Congress he wants the practice stopped. Political experts predict combating racial profiling should also help Bush, who received 10 percent of African-American votes in the 2000 presidential election.

In a closed-door session Wednesday, Ashcroft addressed members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who questioned him on a number of racially related issues, including racial profiling.

"We are very eager to move forward on this directive of the president of the United States and to participate in its fulfillment," Ashcroft said at a news conference Thursday. "I believe we will enhance law enforcement to the extent that we can build and expand upon the trust of individuals."

Ashcroft said he sent a letter to ranking members of the House and Senate, saying he would work with them over the next six months "to produce a legislative product" on racial profiling.

"I believe Congress can and will respond constructively, and I will work with them to make sure they do," he said.

He said if Congress cannot produce legislation within six months, then "I'll simply launch a study of my own."

In addition, Ashcroft said he has ordered a Justice Department review of the nature and extent of racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies.

"I would hope we would be able to develop an understanding of the current policies of the federal law enforcement agencies as they relate to racial profiling," Ashcroft said.

He said he had spoken at length with the president on the issue, and he was pleased to hear Bush address racial profiling in his speech to Congress on Tuesday night.

Ashcroft said he had previously questioned the need for a law prohibiting racial profiling because he believed the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution already provided such protection. Further legislation would amount to treating "people based solely on their race," he said, describing his earlier view. But he said testimony he heard in 1999, when he was a senator, changed his opinion.

"The testimony there galvanized an opinion of mine from the philosophic to the tragic," he said.

Specifically, Ashcroft cited testimony by a man who said he was traveling across the country with his 12-year-old son and stopped twice by law enforcement. The second time, the man's car was disassembled, and he and his son were left on the side of the road.

"It changed theory into tragedy and indelibly marked me with an understanding that racial profiling has really human consequences," the attorney general said.



RELATED STORIES:
Jonathan Karl: The Ashcroft confirmation
February 1, 2001
Panel backs Ashcroft nomination
January 31, 2001
'Driving while black' -- racial profiling under study
June 2, 1999
House panel looks into charges of 'racial profiling' by U.S. Customs
May 21, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Attorney general's office
American Civil Liberties Union: Racial profiling in America
Adversity.Net: Racial profiling collection
Congressional Black Caucus Foundation

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