Editor’s Introduction

Published date01 May 2012
Date01 May 2012
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
28(2) 120 –121
© 2012 SAGE Publications
Reprints and permission: http://www.
DOI: 10.1177/1043986212446871
ulxJournal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
Editor’s Introduction:
Special Issue on Racial
Police and racial minorities have had a contentious relationship throughout American
history. Clashes between these groups have resulted in riots, civil unrest, mutual cyni-
cism, calls for police reform and shifts in policing priorities. It is recognized that minori-
ties are overrepresented across the criminal justice system, that minorities tend to harbor
less favorable perceptions toward the police, and differential contacts between police
officers and minority citizens is consistent with these observations. However, in the mid-
1990s high-profile court cases focused attention on police-public contacts during traffic
enforcement. It was observed that minority motorists were more likely to be pulled over
by the police, and terms including “racial profiling” or “driving while Black” were used
to characterize this new strand of tension between the police and the public. Perhaps in
part due to the catchy phrase and shared understanding among the general public of what
racial profiling is, the reaction to this phenomenon has been truly remarkable. From anti-
racial profiling laws, civil litigation, consent decrees, and internal policies forbidding
racial profiling, to the volumes of commentary, observations, political reaction (which
included a Presidential beer-summit) and research on the topic – the larger social reac-
tion to the “discovery” of racial profiling has also been remarkable. Yet despite this
attention, it is frustrating that a common accepted definition has not been identified,
theoretical explanations for the practice remain elusive, and agreement of recognizing
and detecting racial profiling does not exist.
Racial profiling was ‘born’ in part due to outcomes from civil trials in New Jersey
and Maryland, and since that time litigation has increased dramatically. Withrow and
Dailey (this issue) document this evolution and the various remedial avenues for racial
profiling claims, and further compare and contrast successful and unsuccessful legal
allegations. Based upon their analysis and larger societal factors they anticipate a con-
tinued increase in these legal claims. This observation underscores the importance for
policy makers to accurately define, recognize, and proactively address bias within
police-public contacts.
Initially allegations of racial profiling occurred within the context of disproportionate
contact between the police and the public; specifically, minorities were more likely to be
stopped by the police than their white counterparts. Methodological debates ensued as
people grappled with the benchmarking controversy, or in other words, identifying the
correct racial characteristics of the population in which to compare the racial composi-
tion of who was stopped. Clearly some benchmarks have proved to be less valid than
others, but to some extent this discussion misses the mark – regardless of the benchmark,
citizens’ perceptions of stop legitimacy are critical to understanding public sentiment as
to whether racial profiling exists, or whether citizens feel they have been inappropriately

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