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USA A Minor Inconvenience?


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
A minor inconvenience?

Representatives of the Sikh and Muslim communities in the United States last week testified before a group of US congressmen on what one of them called "this senseless and dangerous dynamic" of racial profiling at US borders.

Amardeep Singh, programme director of the Sikh Coalition in New York, and Farhana Khera, president and executive director, Muslim Advocates in California, were among a group of civil rights groups and law professors who testified before the US House of Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties on June 16.

Narrating a recent incident where he and his son were subject to undue harassment at a US airport, Mr Singh said: "It is my humble submission today that the use by law enforcement of classifications based on race, national origin, religion, or ethnicity has severely undermined both our liberty and safety.

"As the experience of the Sikh American community makes clear, the use of these classifications by law enforcement is invariably inaccurate, inevitably misused, and ultimately detrimental to the important work of our men and women in uniform. In short, we profile, we lose."

He added: "We need this subcommittee and this Congress to put an end to this senseless and dangerous dynamic if our law enforcement leaders who profess an aversion to profiling cannot."

Although racial profiling is discriminatory, a gross violation of human rights and dangerously close to a form of apartheid, little has been reported about it in the global media. However, because this particular hearing included the Sikhs, whose turban and bearded appearance often sees them being mistaken for Muslims by western immigration and security officers who don't know the difference, it has been widely reported in the Indian media.
According to one report in the Indian Express, Congresswoman Judy Chu from California introduced a written testimony on behalf of another advocacy group, United Sikhs, which said: "Unfortunately, as our community knows, Sikhs have routinely faced discriminatory practices at airports across US."

This testimony emphasised the inconsistent policies regarding secondary inspections by Transportation Security Officers, the lack of training, oversight, and unfettered discretion of TSOs, and the unfair targeting of a community that presents no national security risk to the US, it said.
Congresswoman Chu announced she would be writing a letter to TSA asking them for data about complaints and racial profiling for Sikhs and all other ethnic groups.

In her testimony, Ms Khera told stories of a number of American Muslims who she said "have experienced discriminatory treatment and extensive, often highly invasive questioning and searches of their personal belongings without any evidence of wrongdoing."

She said: "Since 9/11, Muslim Americans and those perceived to be Muslim - including Arabs, South Asians, Middle Easterners, and Sikhs - have been subject to heightened scrutiny by federal law enforcement.

"Such discriminatory targeting includes: FBI interviews conducted in the community without suspicion of wrongdoing; extensive and invasive questioning and searches at the border; the surveillance of community organisations and the use of informants and undercover agents; and data gathering and mapping of the community based on cultural and ethnic behaviour.

David A. Harris, professor of law, University of Pittsburgh School of Law, testified: "When police use racial or ethnic targeting, we put a government-created burden on the targeted communities. We effectively say to them that being frisked on the way to the grocery store or thoroughly searched in the airport, on the basis of their racial or ethnic appearance, is only 'a minor inconvenience' they have to tolerate so that we can all be safe.

"Surely, being frisked or having one's belongings searched in public is more than just a minor inconvenience, even if these actions do not amount to arrest. The Supreme Court itself has said that being stopped and frisked is in fact not a minor annoyance but an intrusion on one's Fourth Amendment rights, no matter how brief the incident may be."

Others on the witness list included Christopher Burbank, Chief of Police, Salt Lake City Police Department, Brian L. Withrow, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Texas State University, and Deborah A. Ramirez, Professor of Law, Northeastern University.

Full copies of their testimonies have been posted on the following website: http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/hear - 100617 - 1.html

A minor inconvenience?

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