Imagine that you are an amateur photographer, taking pictures of landmarks in your city. You are wearing a turban in accordance with your Sikh beliefs and minding your own business. A passerby notices you from a distance, calls the police, and tells them that a man of Middle Eastern appearance is taking pictures of the area. Suddenly, you are surrounded by three police officers, who begin to interrogate you. After several minutes, it becomes clear that you’ve done nothing wrong, but the experience is unsettling nonetheless, because you’ve just been racially profiled.
Should you be able to do anything about it?
Not according to most members of the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. On July 20, 2011, a majority of the Committee approved a proposed federal law titled H.R. 963, The See Something, Say Something Act of 2011. Although the legislation is designed to encourage individuals to communicate freely with law enforcement officials without worrying about frivolous lawsuits—and although this is uncontroversial—there is nothing in the legislation to discourage private individuals and police officers from engaging in racial profiling.
This important point was made during the Committee’s July 20 meeting by California Congresswoman Judy Chu, who offered an amendment that would have addressed profiling concerns, and who condemned racial and religious profiling against Sikhs and other minorities.
To be sure, H.R. 963 still needs to be taken up by the entire Congress before it can ever become law, and the Sikh Coalition will work with Senate offices to promote corrective amendments, but the warm embrace the bill received in the House Judiciary Committee underscores the ease with which legislators can discard our most basic civil rights.