U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Driving While Black: Racial Profiling on Our Nation's Highways

NCJ Number
David Harris
Date Published
30 pages
Racial profiling is based on the premise that most drug offenses are committed by minorities, and this premise creates a profile that results in more traffic stops of minority drivers.
Because racial profiling is discriminatory, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes a multifaceted effort is required to address the problem. State ACLU affiliates and other civil rights advocates have brought lawsuits based on a showing of discrimination by law enforcement agencies, but legal action is only a beginning. Legislation at Federal and State levels and local voluntary efforts can advance the momentum to collect accurate data on the problem and control overzealous and sometimes illegal law enforcement practices. The pervasiveness of racial profiling by the police in drug law enforcement is the result of an escalation in the war on drugs. Drug use and drug selling are not confined to racial and ethnic minorities; in fact, five times as many whites use drugs. The war on drugs, however, has targeted people of color and skin color has now become a proxy for criminality. Consequences of racial profiling in law enforcement are evident in the demographics of the prison population. For example, blacks constitute 13 percent of drug users in the United States, 37 percent of those arrested on drug charges, 55 percent of those convicted, and 74 percent of all drug offenders sentenced to prison. Media coverage of racial profiling is also prominent, as indicated in numerous cited examples. Further, statistical evidence collected in the course of ACLU lawsuits shows a clear pattern of racially discriminatory traffic stops and searches. Personal and social costs of racial profiling are considered, as well as ways of preventing the problem. 2 endnotes and 3 tables