WASHINGTON – Authorities' targeting of people because of their racial background or religious affiliation is a deep-rooted problem in the United States, with nearly 32 million people reporting they've been racially profiled, a human rights group said Monday.
The report by Amnesty International USA (search) also said at least 87 million people -- one in three -- in the United States are at high risk of being victimized because they belong to a racial, ethnic or religious group whose members are commonly targeted by police for unlawful stops and searches.
Racial profiling is (search) a growing problem as the government has expanded its War on Terror (search), the report said. Police, immigration and airport security procedures are the areas where the problem has gotten worse since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it said.
Citizens and visitors of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, and others who appear to be from these areas or members of the Muslim and Sikh faiths, have become more frequent subjects of racial profiling over the last three years, the study said.
Such racial profiling is a distraction to law enforcement and therefore, undermines national security efforts, the report said. As police primarily focus on Arab, Muslim and South Asian males, it said, they are more likely to overlook terrorists who are white.
For example, recent cases of American Taliban John Walker Lindh (search) and British shoe bomber Richard Reid (search) show that Al Qaeda has an ability to recruit a diverse range of sympathizers. These two would not necessarily have been identified by policies that focus on Arab, Muslim and South Asian males, the report said.
Aside from the ill-effects on victims -- depression and humiliation -- racial profiling reinforces residential segregation, creates fear and mistrust and engenders reluctance in reporting crimes and cooperating with police officers, Amnesty International USA said.
"In these times of domestic insecurity, our nation simply cannot afford to tolerate practices and policies that build walls between individuals or communities and those who are charged with the duty of protecting all of us," it said.
State laws continue to be insufficient in addressing the problem, according to the report.
Twenty-seven states do not ban racial profiling, the report said. Also, 46 states don't ban religious profiling, 35 continue to allow pedestrian "stop and frisk" searches and only six of the 15 that ban these searches use a definition of racial profiling that can actually be enforced, the report said.
No jurisdiction in the United States has addressed the problem in a way that is effective and comprehensive, the report said. As of August, bills dealing with racial profiling had been introduced in 41 states and passed in 29 -- with only 23 of these states actually banning the practice outright, the report said.
The group endorsed bills introduced in the House by Reps. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and in the Senate by Democrat Russell Feingold of Wisconsin that would ban racial profiling at all levels of government.
Amnesty International USA came up with its estimate of nearly 32 million profiling victims by analyzing a collection of recent polls, census figures and studies, including a 2002 examination by George Washington University's sociology department. The group heard from scores of victims during a year of hearings around the country.