Citing examples of racial profiling, Muslim and civil rights activists told a legislative committee Thursday that police in Illinois should be required to add a category of "Middle Eastern" to those they use to track who is stopped by officers.
That suggestion was part of legislation drafted by the American Civil Liberties Union to help monitor police behavior toward people of Middle Eastern descent as well as other minorities. The legislation, not yet introduced in the General Assembly, would amend a 2003 statute that outlines racial data police officers should collect during traffic stops.
Many police agencies in Illinois log the race of drivers they pull over, but "Middle Eastern" is not among the listed ethnicities. People of Middle Eastern descent are often logged as Caucasian, activists said, so racial profiling of the community remains hidden.
"How can we fix a problem if we don't have a way to monitor it?" said Christina Abraham, civil rights coordinator at the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, testifying before the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee. Abraham listed several incidents in which Chicago police officers allegedly mistreated Arab-Americans in ways she said constituted racial profiling. In November 2004, Chicago police arrested Ahmed Awad, a Bridgeview-based physical therapist born in Egypt. He alleged no reason was given for his arrest and that he was called "jihadi" and "bin Laden" when he asked to pray during his incarceration.
"They fingerprinted me. My wife and kids were crying. They didn't know where I was," Awad said outside the hearing.
Earlier this year, Abraham said, Ahmed Aduib, 19, of Algerian descent, was pulled over by police, who asked if he was Palestinian. The officer allegedly told Aduib that "Palestinian car dealers sell stolen cars," and took him to a police station.
A Chicago police spokeswoman could not be reached about the alleged incidents. Abraham said the Office of Professional Standards exonerated the officers whom Awad accused of mistreating him. The charges of possessing a controlled substance were dropped. No charges were filed against Aduib, who has a complaint against police pending, Abraham said.
A change in the collection of data would enable police and activists to quantify racial profiling against Middle Easterners rather than relying on such anecdotal evidence, proponents said.
Police agencies did not comment on the proposed legislation, but Col. Kenneth Bouche of the Illinois State Police told the committee his department considered collection of racial data during traffic stops a valuable tool to monitor profiling.
The data police collect show, for instance, the rate at which officers stop white drivers versus minority drivers based on their presence in the population. It tallies by race the number of drivers who submitted to a vehicle search. The data are then given to the Illinois Department of Transportation. The agency compiles the statistics and released a report earlier this year.
But the data leave out key elements that ACLU legal director Harvey Grossman and other activists said would help detect the prevalence of racial profiling. The data showed Illinois State Police were twice as likely to search cars driven by minorities during traffic stops as cars driven by whites. Chicago police were almost three times more likely to search cars driven by minorities than by whites, Grossman said.
But the data did not show how many drivers refused to submit to a search. In theory, police might have asked an equal number of black and white drivers to submit to a search, but if more white drivers refused, the data would appear to suggest, wrongly, that police were asking black drivers to submit to searches more often than whites.
The ACLU's proposal would require officers to log when drivers refused to submit to a search, Grossman said.
The legislation also would require police to collect data on pedestrians stopped in addition to drivers. It would require officers to log whether canines were used in a search and whether contraband was found.
Police agencies that failed to collect data and submit it to IDOT would be fined, and the law would become permanent. Grossman said the current law has no penalties for non-compliance and includes a sunset provision in 2007.