How to respond racial profilng incidents


If you're stopped . . .

Civil rights lawyers say racial profiling is illegal. But a 1996 Supreme Court decision allows police to stop cars for traffic violations, even if the purpose is, say, searching for weapons or drugs. Here, lawyers say, is what to do if you are stopped:

Know your rights. Just because the police ask to search your car, you don't have to allow them to. You may politely, but firmly, say no.

Don't argue. If you refuse to let them search, police may try to detain you by the road. You may ask: "Am I free to leave now?" It is unwise to be contentious.

Take names. If you believe police have violated your rights, write down information, such as their names, badge numbers, and license plate numbers.

Take action. You may file a complaint against the police or sue. Talk to an attorney or your local office of the NAACP or ACLU.  

On the national level, the American Civil Liberties Union and other grass-roots groups, such as Citizens Opposing Profiled Police Stops, are pushing for legislation that would require the federal government to study traffic stops and to note the race and ethnicity of motorists detained. In the meantime, they are soliciting motorists' complaints. You can call COPPS at (757) 624-6620 or visit its Web site (