Humanities › Issues A History of Racial Profiling in the United States Share Flipboard Email Print longislandwins/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 Issues Race Relations History People & Events Understanding Race & Racism Law & Politics The U. S. Government U.S. Foreign Policy U.S. Liberal Politics U.S. Conservative Politics Women's Issues Civil Liberties The Middle East Terrorism Immigration Crime & Punishment Canadian Government View More By Tom Head Civil Liberties Expert Ph.D., Religion and Society, Edith Cowan University M.A., Humanities, California State University - Dominguez Hills B.A., Liberal Arts, Excelsior College Tom Head, Ph.D., is a historian specializing in the history of ethics, religion, and ideas. He has authored or co-authored 29 nonfiction books, including "Civil Liberties: A Beginner's Guide." our editorial process Tom Head Updated February 21, 2019 Racial profiling is irrational, unjust, and unproductive, but one thing it is not is un-American. Racial profiling has been part of the U.S. criminal justice system for as long as there has been a U.S. criminal justice system, and part of North American colonial justice systems in the centuries prior to its formation. While little has been done to root out the problem, it is at least acknowledged as a problem today--a considerable improvement over the explicit policy-level endorsements of racial profiling that characterized law enforcement treatment of people of color in centuries past. 1514: The Ultimatum of King Charles Titian/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain The Requerimiento of King Charles I mandated that all natives of the Americas must either submit to Spanish authority and convert to Roman Catholicism or face persecution. It was the only one of many colonial Spanish criminal justice mandates, established ostensibly to promote law and order in the New World, that used a racial profiling policy against American Indians. 1642: The Trials of John Elkin Desconegut/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain In 1642, a Maryland man named John Elkin confessed to the murder of an American Indian leader named Yowocomco. He was acquitted in three consecutive trials by fellow colonists, who refused to punish a white man for killing an American Indian. The governor, frustrated with the bizarre verdict, ordered a fourth trial, at which point Elkin was finally found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. 1669: When Murder Was Legal Wikimedia Commons/CC 2.0 As part of its 1669 enslavement law revisions, the Commonwealth of Virginia passed the Casual Slave Killing Act--legalizing the murder of enslaved people by their enslavers. 1704: To Catch an Enslaved Person Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr/Public Domain The South Carolina enslaved person patrol, arguably the first modern police force in North America, was established in 1704 to find and capture freedom seekers. There is abundant evidence to suggest that pro-slavery governments sometimes arrested free African Americans as "fugitive slaves," transferring them to traders of enslaved people for later sale. 1831: The Other Nat Turner Massacre Stock Montage/Getty Images Immediately following Nat Turner's rebellion on August 13th, approximately 250 Black enslaved people were rounded up and killed--55 executed by the government, the rest lynched--in retaliation. Many of the enslaved people, particularly the lynching victims, were selected more or less at random, their bodies mutilated and displayed on fenceposts as a warning to any enslaved people who might choose to rebel. 1868: The Equal Protection Doctrine The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. The amendment, which states that "No State shall ... Deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," would have made racial profiling illegal had it been enforced by the courts. As it stood, it only made racial profiling policies less formal; racial profiling policies, once written explicitly into law by legislatures, would now have to be conducted in a more subtle way. 1919: The Palmer Raids U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, an avowed enemy of those first-generation European-American immigrants he described as "hyphenated Americans," ordered the notorious Palmer Raids in response to a series of small-scale terrorist attacks perpetrated by German- and Russian-American immigrants. The raids led to dossiers on some 150,000 first-generation immigrants and the arrest and summary deportation of more than 10,000 immigrants without trial. 1944: Racial Profiling Receives the Supreme Court's Endorsement Family of Fred T. Korematsu/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0 In Korematsu v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court held that ethnic profiling is not unconstitutional and may be practiced in times of national emergency. The ruling, which defended the involuntary internment of an estimated 110,000 Japanese Americans on the sole basis of ethnicity and national origin during World War II, has been roundly condemned by legal scholars ever since. 2000: Tales From the Jersey Turnpike Travel Images/UIG/Getty Images In response to a lawsuit, the State of New Jersey released 91,000 pages of police records documenting a consistent pattern of racial profiling in motor vehicle stops along the New Jersey Turnpike. According to the data, Black drivers--accounting for 17 percent of the population--made up 70 percent of drivers searched and had a 28.4 percent chance of carrying contraband. White drivers, despite having a slightly higher 28.8 percent chance of carrying contraband, were searched far less often. 2001: War and Terror Spencer Platt/Getty Images. Following the September 11th attacks, the Bush administration rounded up an unknown number of Middle Eastern women and men on suspicion of being associated with terrorist groups. Some were deported; some were released; hundreds captured overseas are still in Guantanamo Bay, where they remain imprisoned without trial to this day. 2003: A Good Start Hulton Archive/Getty Images In response to public pressure following accounts of post-9/11 racial profiling, President George W. Bush signed an executive order banning the use of race, color, and ethnicity to profile suspects in 70 different federal agencies. The executive order has been criticized as toothless, but at least it represents an executive branch policy against racial profiling.