WASHINGTON — Nationwide reform of law enforcement practices is critical to restoring community trust in the police, officials said at a congressional forum Wednesday afternoon.
“It is way past time that we have a clear national policy against the use of discriminatory profiling,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., told the forum, which he hosted with Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “We need a single national standard.”
“Your constitutional rights should not be based upon what state you live in or happen to be traveling to,” the senator said. “We need a national law on this.”
The forum was created in response to numerous incidents involving police allegedly profiling minorities. Some of those incidents have turned violent and deadly. Police officers have been accused of unnecessary force in the deaths of civilians, including 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore in April.
Cardin and Frosh contend that the criminal justice system is discriminatory. They asked law enforcement, academic, and human rights experts to support their views. No Republicans or opponents of law enforcement reform spoke at the forum.
“Given the cues we regularly encounter and receive about different racial groups in our society, it is likely that most Americans in the United States would exhibit some degree of implicit bias favoring whites,” said Linda Tropp, a professor at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.
“There’s other research to suggest that whites and – in some cases, white police officers – have been more likely to see black faces as criminal compared to white faces, and are more likely to make false errors in crime simulations mistakenly shooting unarmed black targets at a greater rate than unarmed white targets,” Tropp said.
Cardin has introduced legislation aimed at addressing police profiling, reforming police practices and requiring comprehensive training on racial profiling issues.
“I think educating people is critical, educating the law enforcement officers that are protecting us is critical,” said Frosh. “When (police) get the proper training, they act appropriately.”
Prince George’s County Sheriff Melvin High agreed.
“Policing in the 21st Century (is) always acting in an environment that promotes ethical behavior and that is grounded in moral attitudes,” he said.
Frosh underscored that “we can’t afford to continue to judge people based on the color of their skin, or how they worship or where their family came from.”
“All of that is destructive of our trust of law enforcement and our trust in the ability of our government to function adequately and fairly and treat people fairly,” the attorney general said.