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8 Dec, 2014 17:48

New racial-profiling rules don't apply to TSA, border security, Secret Service

New racial-profiling rules don't apply to TSA, border security, Secret Service

New federal policing rules will expand protections against racial and ethnic profiling to include gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. US Attorney General Eric Holder hopes local law enforcement adopt the guidelines.

The changes update the Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies that was issued in June 2003 under President George W. Bush. The 2003 outline barred only profiling based on race and ethnic origin.

Yet the new rules will allow exemptions for some federal agents working under the US Department of Homeland Security, including screeners for the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), border security officers, and Secret Service members.

The new guidance comes in response to national unrest following two grand jury decisions, in Missouri and New York, not to indict white police officers that killed unarmed black men. Protests over racial profiling, police brutality, and an overall mistrust of America’s police-court-prison troika have spread from Ferguson, Missouri - where demonstrations and civil outrage have occurred since 18-year-old Michael Brown’s death in August - to cities from coast to coast.

The outgoing attorney general has indicated high hopes for the new profiling rules. Holder said one week ago that he would offer “updated Justice Department guidance regarding profiling by federal law enforcement, which will institute rigorous new standards - and robust safeguards - to help end racial profiling, once and for all.”

“We are dealing with concerns that are truly national in scope and that threaten the entire nation. Broadly speaking, without mutual understanding between citizens – whose rights must be respected – and law enforcement officers – who make tremendous and often-unheralded personal sacrifices every day to preserve public safety – there can be no meaningful progress,” Holder added during an event in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. “Our police officers cannot be seen as an occupying force disconnected from the communities they serve. Bonds that have been broken must be restored. Bonds that never existed must now be created.”

Later on Monday, Holder is expected to lead a conference call with local law enforcement leaders to urge the adoption of the new federal rules, an anonymous US Justice Department official told Reuters.

Some have pointed out that the new racial profiling measures likely would not have played a part in the police killings of Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York since they did not involve local law enforcement agencies.

"Based on what we know about the changes that are coming out, I'm not sure how it ties into the Eric Garner/Ferguson issue," Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security program at the Brennan Center, told AP. "In both of those cases, you had local law enforcement that was involved in the incidents, and the guidelines don't regulate state and local police."

Demonstrators fill 7th Avenue in Times Square as they protest a grand jury decision not to charge a New York policeman in the choking death of Eric Garner, in New York December 4, 2014 (Reuters / Mike Segar)

The Justice Department official said Holder, set to leave his position early next year, wants the new federal guidelines in place before he steps down as one of the longest-serving and US attorneys general in history, not to mention the first African American to hold the post.

The new guidance allegedly closes a loophole for “national security” purposes contained in the earlier profiling law. Now, only certain agents working under the umbrella of the Dept. of Homeland Security will receive those exemptions.

The Dept. of Homeland Security said, according to Reuters, that the exceptions are part of the department’s unique mission, "most notably in protecting our borders and securing our skies."

In addition to racial profiling at the nation’s borders, the administration will continue to allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to perform “mapping,” which allows the agency to collect a wide range of demographic information on entire neighborhoods.

The exemptions for some federal officers means the national security loophole is not sufficiently closed, ACLU's Washington legislative director Laura Murphy told Reuters.

Those exceptions are "distressing, particularly because Latinos and religious minorities are disproportionately affected,” she said.

An air traveler is patted down after passing through a full-body scanner at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) (AFP Photo / David McNew)

During his appearance in Atlanta last week to address ongoing police abuse of communities of color, Holder also reiterated that the Obama administration was in the midst of a “review of the distribution of military hardware to state and local police,” programs of which came under much scrutiny during the initial unrest that followed Brown’s murder in Ferguson. Local police combated demonstrations and protest with military-grade hardware, from tear gas and stun grenades to armored vehicles and guns of all types.

Holder added last week that the federal government will commit more than “$200 million to support a three-year initiative that will invest in body-worn cameras, expand training for law enforcement agencies, add more resources for police department reform, and multiply the number of cities where Justice Department leaders facilitate greater engagement between residents and local authorities.”