If you have been following the local news, you may know that Chicago’s murder rate has been extremely high in recent years.  As a result, local police have stated a strategy to make the city safer that involves, in part, profiling gang members.  While this may be a helpful strategy for targeting and preventing gang violence, it may pose a risk of renewed racial profiling.

The Law on Racial Profiling

Racial profiling occurs when law enforcement assume criminal activity has or will be perpetrated by someone based on the race of the alleged criminal.  According the United States Supreme Court, racial profiling is unconstitutional.  In the case, Whren v. United States,  the Court explicitly says so.  What is important to know about this case, though, is that police can legally stop you for one violation even if they suspect another.  Meaning that if the police think a car full of people may be involved in drug activity, the police can pull the car over for a different reason, like a broken taillight.  However, pulling a car over based on the race of the people in the car is not allowed.

This became a real problem in Illinois, prompting the legislature to act.  First, a bill was passed in 2003 to collect data associated with traffic stops to study the problem.  Next, the Illinois Legislature passed the Racial Profiling Prevention and Data Oversight Act effective in 2007 to stop the widespread problem of racial profiling by studying the problem and finding a solution.  The main goal is to eliminate the police practice that uses race to indicate criminal activity.  Unfortunately, the solution was never found because no one was ever appointed to review the statistics and create new police policies and procedures.

Given the history of racial profiling in Chicago, are people at risk now for being pulled over because they might be suspected of gang activity?  Is this “new” police strategy to drop murder rates going to result in everyone who looks like they might be in a gang being subjected to unlawful stops?  Could you fall victim to being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Know Your Rights

In order to protect your self, you should understand the law and know that racial profiling is illegal.  At the time of a traffic stop or sidewalk detention, understand that police must have a certain level of cause in order to search you or your vehicle.  The police will likely ask for your consent, perhaps many times if they do not have the just cause to do so without your consent.  It is within your rights to deny consent to the search.  For more information about the topic of cause and warrants, you may contact a qualified Chicago warrant Attorney.    If you suspect you are the target of racial profiling, find out more about the law immediately.  If you find yourself being targeted because of your race, your first call should be to a qualified Illinois criminal defense attorney.