Racial profiling is the targeting of particular individuals based on the erroneous assumption that persons of a particular race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion are more likely to engage in certain types of unlawful conduct.
It is the impermissible use of personal characteristics when there is no reliable information that links a person of a particular race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion to a specific incident, scheme, or organization.
Why is it an issue of faith?
In honor to our Creator God, we honor all human beings as being created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). As people of faith, we are called to be in solidarity with all people, because God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34-35).
What does that really mean in real life?[i]
Nationally, Black drivers are twice more than White drivers to be arrested. Hispanic drivers are more likely than White drivers to receive a ticket. White drivers are more likely to receive a written warning than Hispanic drivers. White drivers are more likely than Black drivers to be verbally warned by police. Statewide data also confirm this pervasive phenomenon of “Driving While Black or Brown.”
In addition, minority pedestrians are often subjected to suspicion-less stops-and-frisks, as shown in data collected through the NYPD and LAPD. Street-level law enforcement authorities are provided with wide discretion in community policing, which is often exercised to racially profile minorities who are perceived to be a threat to public safety even if they have done nothing wrong.
Religious profiling is sometimes used as a proxy for race, ethnicity or national origin.
Muslims and Arabs in the U.S. are being singled out for question and detention, on the basis of religion and national origin, by federal programs such as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which requires certain individuals from predominantly Muslim countries to register with the federal government, be fingerprinted, photographed and interrogated.
79% of targets investigated by the federal covert program OFL, Operation Front Line to “deter terror operations” were immigrants from Muslim majority countries. In our nation’s airports, individuals wearing Sikh turbans or Muslim head coverings are often profiled for higher security at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints.
- Immigration law enforcement
Vast numbers of Hispanics – most of whom U.S. citizens or legal residents, are racially profiled. State and local agencies target Hispanic individuals and entire Hispanic communities in a broad way to enforce federal immigration law, when several problematic collaborative programs with ICE are supposedly to be narrowly focused.
In addition, some state lawmakers undertake initiatives of their own that further encouraged racial profiling. For example, Arizona’s S.B. 1070 turns mere civil infractions of federal immigration law, such as not carrying registration papers, into state crimes, and gives private citizen the right to sue Arizona law enforcement authority if they believe that the law is not being fully enforced.
What kind of legislation is proposed in regard to racial profiling?
The End Racial Profiling Act (S. 1670) has been introduced to the 112th Congress in 2011-2012, and heard by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. ERPA will create a federal prohibition against racial profiling, provide funding to train officials on how to end this practice, and hold law enforcement officials and agencies that continue to use racial profiling accountable.
[i] Restoring a National Consensus: The Need to End Racial Profiling in America by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (Washington, DC), March 2012.
It costs about $35,000 to incarcerate a juvenile. It takes just $7,000 a year to educate one.
Juveniles can be tried as adults in all 50 states, and are vulnerable to adult punishments. They may also be remanded to adult prisons.
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child states that crimes committed by a juvenile should not result in execution or life in prison without parole. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute people for crimes they committed as children. As a consequence, a number of young people were released from death row into the general prison population. Five other countries execute people for juvenile offenses: Iran, Yemen, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.
The Twenty-Third General Synod stated, "We affirm the right of juveniles to an equitable system of justice that respects the life and promise of our youth."
October is National Youth Justice Awareness Month
The United States has more than 60,000 children sitting in jail, lost in a broken system that has led our country to incarcerate more children than any other nation. Why are we turning our backs on the youngest, most vulnerable members of society, locking up 2 out of 3 of those who are convicted of nonviolent offenses? Why are 80 percent of children who are imprisoned black or Hispanic? And why are we punishing these children so harshly, dooming some of them to solitary confinement, where they are left torturously alone, causing severe physical and psychological harm? Voices from all points of the political spectrum, including the faith community are calling for answers and solutions to these and many other issues. They are speaking out and raising awareness for criminal justice and youth justice reform.
The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) is a national initiative committed to seeking solutions for these troubling questions. It is focused entirely on ending the practice of prosecuting, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system.
Annually, the Campaign sponsors National Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM) which aims to provide people across the country an opportunity to develop action-oriented events in their communities during the month of October. Individuals, communities and organizations can advocate for better juvenile justice policies by elevating the importance of issues such as determining the age that juveniles are classified as adults, housing juveniles with adult offenders, and isolation in solitary confinement. This year President Barack Obama has signed a proclamation observing October as National Youth Justice Awareness Month. Read the President’s Proclamation.
One way that your local congregation can be involved this year is to partner with organizations to get local governments or state Governors to pass resolutions declaring that October is Youth Justice Awareness Month.
- Youth Justice Awareness Month Guide to Passing a Resolution
- How to Host a Film Screening
- Childhood Interrupted (Film | Discussion Guide)
- Stickup Kid (Film | Discussion Questions)
JWM is interested in knowing what activities, actions your local congregation will undertake during National Youth Justice Awareness Month. Email your events, film screenings, discussion, actions, photos, stories, etc. to Barbara T. Baylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIG NEWS: Reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act introduced in Congress
Recently, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced legislation, S.1169, to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which was created in 1974 and has not been updated since 2002.
The legislation would make improvements to the law, including:
- incorporating recent research into adolescent behavior and brain research,
- requiring that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) identify best practices to serve and protect at-risk youth,
- phasing out remaining circumstances when youth can be detained for status offenses (offenses which would not be a crime if committed by an adult),
- removing youth charged in adult court from placement in adult jails.
The JJDPA is the only federal law that sets national standards for the treatment of youth involved in juvenile justice systems. In the 40 years since it was first enacted into law, the JJDPA has enabled significant improvements to juvenile justice, including reducing youth crime rates and supporting many states in creating fairer approaches that help youth stay connected to their communities and get back on track.
In 2001 the 23rd General Synod of the United Church of Christ affirmed advocacy for fair and appropriate treatment of youth, especially as they are involved with or at risk for involvement in the criminal justice system.
Resources on the JJDPA & the New Senate Bill
- Read the bill text
- Key changes to JJDP Reauthorization Act introduced in 113th Congress
- Major Provisions of Juvenile Justice Reauthorization Act of 2015
- Act4JJ's Resources on the JJDPA
Deeply connected to the recently renewed dialogue about the criminal justice system and the pressing need to address the reality of mass incarceration are issues at the core of our faith tradition. Our understandings of justice, healing, restoration, reconciliation, redemption and transformation are important spiritual resources for us as we wrestle with these issues. Indeed, as people of faith, we are called to this conversation in a significant way, on multiple levels of systemic change, public policy change and individual change.
The teachings of the Gospel particularly challenge us to engage these realities in ways that take us beyond the surface and into true encounter with Jesus. In Matthew we hear Jesus proclaiming, “When I was in prison, you visited me.” It is easy to glide past these words, but their import is powerful.
“When I was in prison, you visited me.”
In the lives and faces of those who fall into the criminal justice system, we encounter Christ. Even in the midst of profound brokenness. We are challenged to seek out the image of God in this complex and challenging context. We cannot enter the conversation at arms-length. Because we are followers of Jesus, we are called to be present as ambassadors of healing, restoration and justice in jail cells, courtrooms, booking rooms, prison yards and detention centers.
Commentary: A call to action opposing mandatory minimums for drug crimes
May 15, 2017
The United Church of Christ remains a faithful witness and advocate for criminal justice reforms and an end to the disproportionate number of people of color within the prison industrial complex.
Racial justice proponents reject new Department of Justice guidelines on criminal punishment
May 12, 2017
Critical of new guidelines from the U.S. Department of Justice outlining tougher punishments for nonviolent drug offenders, United Church of Christ racial justice leaders are calling on the wider church to protect vulnerable communities and to renew their commitment to justice to create a just world for all.
General Synod 30 Resolutions on Mass Incarceration
- Dismantling Discriminatory Systems of Mass Incarceration in the United States
- Dismantling the New Jim Crow
Download our 1-page resources on criminal justice for use in your congregation:
- Our Faith and the Criminal Justice System
- The United Church of Christ & Criminal Justice Reform - Our Historic Witness
- The Interfaith Witness for Criminal Justice Reform
- Fast Facts about Criminal Justice & Mass Incarceration
- Ferguson or Fallujah? The Militarization of Law Enforcement
“When I was in prison….”: Our Faith and the Criminal Justice System
A primer by Sandy Sorensen, Director of our UCC Washington Office. In it she looks at our criminal justice system, our call to stand with those in prison, and the momentum building for change
The state of our criminal justice system
More than 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated in the United States today, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics. About 1.5 million are in federal or state facilities for adults. The remainder are in local jails, juvenile facilities, military prisons, jails on Indian reservations, or immigration facilities. This is not the full picture, however. More than 5 million additional persons are under Justice supervision, either on probation or on parole. The number of people currently active within the system is over 7 million.
The United States imprisons more of its own people than any other country in the world. For every 100,000 U.S. residents, more than 700 are in prison. In contrast, the incarceration rate per 100,000 residents in the U.K. is 125; in Canada, 110; and in the Netherlands, France and Italy it is 90. In Japan, the incarceration rate is 40 per 100,000. Of all the prisoners in the world, one out of every four is incarcerated in the United States.
The number of U.S. prisoners continues to grow. The prison population has more than quadrupled since 1980, and has risen sharply for women and youth. Greatest increases are in the South and West regions, but the general trend is consistent across all states. Approximately 1 in every 100 men and 1 in every 1,700 women in America resides in a federal or state facility. If this trend persists, we can expect that one in every 20 of America's children will serve time in a state or federal prison.
The General Synod of the United Church of Christ has established a policy base calling for reformation of the nation's justice system, with specific attention to promoting training and rehabilitation of inmates; reduction in mass incarceration, especially through alternative sentencing; attending to race and class bias in arrests and sentencing; opposing excessive bail; opposing the growth of the prison industrial complex; and calling for increased public awareness of prison conditions.
Learn More About Criminal Justice
- Capital Punishment
- Mental Illness & Incarceration
- Our criminal justice system on the world stage
- Prison Labor
- Prison Ministry
- The Privatization of Prisons
- Puerto Rican Political Prisoners and the positions of the United Church of Christ
- Resources on Criminal Justice
- The relationship between incarceration and crime rates
- What Can I Do?
On Oct. 24, 2001, six weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed a law "to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes." The House voted 356 to 66, and the Senate, 90 to 1, to support the USA Patriot Act.
Quickly pulled together in an environment of fear about terrorism, the law consolidates tremendous new powers in the executive branch of government, and greatly enlarges the government's ability to conduct surveillance, detain immigrants, conduct searches and seizures, and prosecute political dissidents. Today, more than 18 months after the attacks, U.S. citizens are growing more concerned about our government's ability to suspend civil liberties and silence political dissent. Now, bureaucratic power is further consolidated with the creation of the new U.S. Department for Homeland Security. Meanwhile, our government has been busily preparing for war with Iraq while simultaneously fighting a war on terrorism with nebulous boundaries and no end in sight.
Why is this important? Take a walk with me on any day, anywhere in the United States. Let's go to the grocery store for beans and rice. No cash? Use the debit card. Your information is captured. We visit the doctor and pay for the lab tests. Information captured. Call a friend from a cell phone. Captured. Make a monthly payment through customer service and provide your social security number. Surf the web. Captured.
Was there anything there that might be construed by an observer to be unpatriotic? New laws make it possible for the government to monitor calls, email, and conversations in homes, offices, and cars. Our smallest movements can be known and we will never know.
The FBI has created an online database called the Terrorist Information System that contains data on more than 200,000 individuals and 3,000 organizations. It contains information not only on subjects of investigations, but on contacts and potential witnesses as well. In itself, this may seem like a necessary thing. But when we operate out of fear, without proper safeguards, such an information system can endanger the privacy of a whole people.
This is not the first time in this country that we have responded to fear by clamping down on individual liberties. Just as Arab Americans are being suspected of terrorist plots based on nothing other than their heritage, we also imprisoned dissidents during World War I for speaking out against the war, and we incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II. In the 1960s and '70s, the FBI's counterintelligence program COINTELPRO was a massive operation to infiltrate, disrupt, and otherwise interfere with the lawful activities of civil rights advocates, religious bodies, and others.
As history teaches us: Once the government has successfully curtailed our civil liberties, it is very difficult to roll back on these infringements.
All people in the United States have rights. Regardless of our citizenship status, we do not have to answer any questions by any law enforcement agent. We do not have to sign any paper without a lawyer present. We do not have to let the police, the FBI, the INS, or anyone else come into our homes or search our offices without a warrant. We do not have to answer questions about immigration status. We are protected under the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable seizures. We have the right to advocate for changes in laws and government practices under the First Amendment.
I believe it is our duty as true patriots to act now to support our human rights to privacy and peace.
The Rev. Sala W.J. Nolan is Minister for Criminal Justice and Human Rights with the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries.
For information on defending our civil liberties, go to the Center for Constitutional Rights www.ccr-ny.org or the Public Eye www.publiceye.org. For the full text of the USA Patriot Act, go to www.epic.org.