The President Targets a Black and White Issue

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Itís been talked about in minority communities for years. Now itís being talked about at the highest levels in Washington. On Wednesday at a Justice Department conference bringing together law enforcement and civil rights leaders, President Clinton declared war on "the morally indefensible, deeply corrosive practice" of racial profiling by law enforcement officials. "We all have an obligation to move beyond anecdotes to find out exactly who is being stopped and why," he said. To get going, the President ordered federal law enforcement officials to collect data on the race and gender of the people they question or arrest to see if they are targeting certain groups without proper justification. The President's order, covering federal agencies from Customs to the FBI, affects relatively few people, but the hope is that the directive will spur introspection by the thousands of state and local police agencies who make the bulk of arrests nationwide.

The conference and the presidential order comes on the heels of an ACLU study detailing cases of racial profiling, an admission by the state of New Jersey that some state troopers have engaged in the practice, and a number of highly publicized incidents between police and minorities from New York to California. "This is a step in the right direction," says TIME writer Tammerlin Drummond. "Many police departments have fought having to do this -- in part for fear of being sued -- but in places where data has been collected voluntarily, as in San Jose, complaints against the police have declined." The impulse to tackle racial profiling comes naturally to Bill Clinton, says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan: "The President has made a big thing about race relations in the country. Heís now even preparing a book on the subject that he hopes to finish by the end of summer." As the President begins to think about his legacy, he is increasingly trying to refocus on issues, such as race and health care, that originally helped bring him to power.