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Opinion: When courts pretend it's not about race
The Supreme Court appears to have enshrined racial profiling into law in recent rulings, Sherrilyn A. Ifill says.
May 25th, 2012
03:00 PM ET

Opinion: When courts pretend it's not about race

Editor's note: Sherrilyn A. Ifill is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and the chairwoman of the U.S. Programs Board of the Open Society Foundations. She is the author of "On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-first Century."

By Sherrilyn A. Ifill, Special to CNN

(CNN) - The United States has a dignity problem. The concept of dignity is recognized by law in countries all over the world. It is a cornerstone of both international humanitarian law, which governs the treatment of prisoners of war, and international human rights law.

But it has little power in American jurisprudence. A robust recognition and protection of dignity is precisely what we need, particularly if we are to understand how racism has broken its tether and become enshrined again in state laws and policies across the United States.

Take racial profiling - the single most explicit manifestation of racial prejudice in the United States today. Nearly 700,000 individuals a year are subject to the brutal indignity of the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy. The vast majority are young African-American and Latino men. In a New York Times op-ed in December, 23-year-old Nicholas Peart heart-rendingly described his initiation into the world of stop-and-frisk beginning at age 14. This rite of passage for innocent young black men requires submitting without complaint or question to being harassed and targeted by the police. Even showing an "attitude" can escalate encounters into an arrest or even death.

Stop-and-frisk policing is only one aspect of the national indignity of racial profiling. Police surveillance of law-abiding Muslims (here again the New York police play a central role) and the pulling over of motorists for "driving while black" are two others. Rather than recognize how these practices strike at our bedrock constitutional rights to due process, equal protection and freedom from unreasonable searches, the Supreme Court recently doubled down on racial profiling. It decided that the discretion of police may be complemented by the discretion of jail officials to strip-search the 14 million Americans who are arrested each year.

Read Sherrilyn A. Ifill's full commentary 

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. NamDebra

    Typical..thats what? Four of my posts deleted.. Pathetic... Yawn...

    June 1, 2012 at 5:39 am | Report abuse |
  2. hamsta

    @jimmyg obama is so foreign policy driven that he sold his bin laden informant to pakistan so the terrorists could find him guilty of treason.

    May 27, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jimmy G.

    Professor Ifill, I wish more people would listen to you. I am all for equal rights. I hate corrupt government in any form.

    I have only one problem with your commentary: You do not talk about President Obama, the Department of Justice, or the fact that racial profiling has actually gotten worse under President Obama.

    I tend to think that this is because Obama seems extremely foreign-policy oriented and has a massive blind spot in dealing with domestic issues, but there could be other reasons.

    I support any efforts to reduce or eliminate any corruption in our government. Thank you for the well-written article.

    May 27, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. hamsta

    @ namdebra the world needs more people like you! MARTIN LUTHER KING is turning over in his grave. the naacp is not who he wanted them to be. they have been taken over by jesse jackson, al sharpton and other race baiters.

    May 26, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. hamsta

    @ donna all you see is racism. window tint is illegal. big speakers are illegal. 24 inch rims should be illegal because they fall of the car and cause accidents. all that money could be spent on a safer car but all you see is racism.

    May 26, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  6. Robert

    Would the streets be safer if police spent their time rousting elderly Asian women instead of young black males?

    May 25, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • some guy

      If I learned anything from Martial Arts movies it's that Old ladies are THE most dangerous

      May 27, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. hamsta

    Maybe you wouldnt get pulled over for driving while black if you werent putting 24 inch rims, window tint, big speakers and neon lights on a 500 dollar jollopy that belongs in a scrap yard.

    May 25, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Donna

      so when does 24 inch rims, window tints, big speakers, and neon lights on a 500 dollar car have anything to do with race or the judicial system or being pulled over? If someones pulled over because of such additions to the vehicle of their choice, there's definately a problem with America, YOUR Thoughts, YOUR Stereotypes..plain and simple..you have issues.

      May 25, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |