ACLU Report: Racism ‘Swept Under The Rug’

Lindsey Parietti, Daily News Tribune (Waltham Massachusetts), December 11, 2007

The United States is doing little to comply with an international agreement to end racial discrimination and has downplayed widespread racism, charged an American Civil Liberties Union report released yesterday.

In 1994, the United States signed a United Nations treaty to end all forms of racial discrimination.

But according to the ACLU, when the United States updated the international community on its progress in April, it “swept under the rug” problems such as racial profiling, the disproportionate incarceration of minorities, and civil rights violations against immigrants.

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Local and state governments are not doing enough to eradicate racism where it has been identified, said a panel of ACLU staff members and minority rights advocates at a State House press conference yesterday.

Among the examples of inaction cited by the report was a 2000 Massachusetts law, which found that 249 of 341 local police departments showed racial disparities in traffic stops, but allowed the departments to stop reporting disparities after one year.

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Koutoujian [state Rep. Peter Koutoujian, D-Waltham, who serves on a legislative commission to end racial health disparities in Massachusetts] said the commission has impressed him with the effect of discrimination on health, stress, and every aspect of life.

“Racism is far more than individual racial prejudice—racism is cultural and structural . . . institutional discrimination against people of color by people we call white,” state Rep. Byron Rushing, D-Boston, said at the press conference.

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Watt [Steven Watt, one of the ACLU report’s authors] said the information that the U.S. State Department submitted to the United Nations in April was replete with inaccuracies.

Yet the U.S. report discusses many of the same problems identified by the ACLU: bias against people of Arab and South Asian descent, subtle and overt discrimination against minorities, and disparities in education and achievement, among others.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson said she had not seen the ACLU report, but that “the Department of State has taken a firm stance on human rights over the years both at home and abroad.”

[Editor’s Note: A PDF of the ACLU report “Race and Ethnicity in America: Turning a Blind Eye to Injustice” can be read or downloaded here.] The ACLU press release appears below.


For Immediate Release

Contact: (212) 549-2582 or (212) 549-2666; [email protected]

NEW YORK—The American Civil Liberties Union today released a comprehensive analysis of the pervasive institutionalized, systemic and structural racism in America. The report, Race & Ethnicity in America: Turning a Blind Eye to Injustice, is a response to the U.S. report to the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) released earlier this year. The U.S. report, which the ACLU called a “whitewash,” swept under the rug the dramatic effects of widespread racial and ethnic discrimination in this country.

“Once again, the U.S. government has failed to level with the international community about its human rights record when it comes to racial injustice in America’s own backyard. From police brutality and racial profiling, to voter disfranchisement and skyrocketing rates of incarceration, the effects of racial discrimination are corrosive,” said Jamil Dakwar, Advocacy Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “Although there is a long way to go, we will continue to press this government to fulfill its obligations to end racial and ethnic discrimination.”

The U.S. government submitted its report in April to the CERD committee, an independent group of internationally recognized human rights experts that oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a treaty signed and ratified by the U.S. in 1994. All levels of the U.S. government are obligated to comply with the treaty’s provisions, which require countries to review national, state and local policies and to amend or repeal laws and regulations that create or perpetuate racial discrimination.The treaty also encourages countries to take positive measures, including affirmative action, to redress racial inequalities.

In its “shadow report” to the U.N., compiled jointly by the ACLU’s Human Rights and Racial Justice Programs and based on information provided by the ACLU affiliates in more than 20 states, the ACLU documents the U.S. government’s failure to fully comply with CERD in numerous substantive areas affecting racial and ethnic minorities. The report examines policies and practices at the federal, state and local levels which place a disproportionate burden on vulnerable populations—including women, children, incarcerated persons, and immigrants and non-citizens.

Since the treaty’s ratification, U.S. reporting on compliance has been inadequate, and this most recent report is no exception. The government’s report is riddled with misrepresentations and inaccuracies and fails to honestly assess the ways in which racial and ethnic discrimination and inequality persist.

“The U.S. report failed miserably in accurately characterizing the state of race relations and intolerance in this country,” said Laleh Ispahani, Senior Policy Counsel at the ACLU. “Now, in commemoration of International Human Rights Day, it is time to set the record straight.”

Race & Ethnicity in America: Turning a Blind Eye to Injustice details the setbacks in the promotion of racial and ethnic equality, including the government’s attack on affirmative action and the courts’ curtailment of civil rights.The ACLU report finds that discrimination in America permeates education, employment, the treatment of migrants and immigrants, law enforcement, access to justice for juveniles and adults, detention and incarceration, the death penalty, and the many collateral consequences of incarceration including the loss of political rights.

The ACLU report also criticizes major shortcomings in the U.S. government’s report including: its minor mention of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the omissions of the “school to prison pipeline” phenomenon (which involves the overzealous funneling of students of color out of classrooms and into the criminal justice system), the dramatic increase in hate crimes, and the escalating problem of police brutality.

“This administration seeks to portray America as a leader in the protection and promotion of human rights and democracy throughout the world, but our report concludes that this country is not protecting the basic human rights of its own people,” said Chandra Bhatnagar, staff attorney for the ACLU’s Human Rights Program. “Our message to the U.S. government is crystal clear—respect for universal human rights begins at home.”

The ACLU report examines human rights violations that took place before, during and after Hurricane Katrina, a crisis that exposed to the world the persistence of racial and economic inequalities in America, It also documents the epidemic of minorities being subjected to racial profiling, a practice most often associated with African-Americans and Latinos, but one which also affects other minority communities in the post-9/11 era, including Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians.

In addition, the report highlights the government’s failure to protect immigrants and non-citizens, and particularly low-wage workers, from racially discriminatory policies and acts like governmental crackdowns and workplace raids.

December 10th is celebrated worldwide as International Human Rights Day. Today the ACLU and many of its affiliates across the country will hold events as part of the ACLU’s National Day of Action Against Racial Discrimination.

Today’s report, Race & Ethnicity in America: Turning a Blind Eye to Injustice, can be found online at: www.aclu.org/cerd

More information on the ACLU’s Human Rights Program can be found online at: www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/gen/30079pub20070612.html

More information on the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program can be found online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/index.html

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