Candidates Now Have Something to Declare

  • Share
  • Read Later
If George W. Bush thought that the explosive issue of racial profiling was something he could conveniently dismiss as a local matter, he learned otherwise on Monday. And if Al Gore believed racial profiling only went on in such regional organizations as the New Jersey State Police, he also was much mistaken. A report issued by the federal government's watchdog agency, the General Accounting Office, on the practices of U.S. Customs agents found that customs agents routinely target returning minorities for contraband searches, even though racial profiling goes against Customs Service policy. Until now Bush has skirted the subject, saying he opposes profiling but that as president he wouldn't be able to do much about it, since it's not the federal government's job to tell state and local police forces what to do. As for Gore, he loves to talk about how he is disturbed by the practice, but is now faced with the news that it has been occurring under the nose of the administration of which he is a part.

The most troubling finding in the GAO report is that Customs' most invasive, time-consuming search methods — X rays (often coupled with the forced ingestion of laxatives) — is performed disproportionately on African-American women, who are forced to submit to these searches nine times as often as their white female counterparts. This is despite a success rate of finding contraband that is significantly lower with black women than with white women. Although the number of people subject to this practice is fairly small — about a thousand people per year — minority groups such as the Urban League have wasted no time in using the findings to press the presidential candidates on racial profiling in general.

It's an issue that polls show is important to swing voters — with most moderates favoring an end to the practice — and even more important to minorities, something Bush would do well to take note of as he continues his attempts to court the Hispanic vote. (According to the report, Latinos were also victimized, though to a lesser extent, by the Customs Service's actions.) As for Gore, he has to hope that his early pronouncements against the practice — and some distancing from the administration on its civil-right record — will keep him from harm. But you can bet this is an issue Wolf Blitzer and Larry King won't be able to resist introducing into presidential debates.