Rather than working on whatever few things we might actually be able to accomplish during his waning days in the cabinet, Attorney General Eric Holder is launching straight into yet another racially charged issue. And in this case, that’s a literal definition of the situation. We shall apparently be getting a new set of Justice Department guidelines on racial profiling.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Monday he would soon release new guidelines to limit racial profiling by federal law enforcement, a move long awaited by civil rights advocates…
Holder said he would announce the guidelines “in the coming days” as part of President Barack Obama’s response to the tension between law enforcement and minority communities that the events in Ferguson exposed.
The Bush administration outlawed racial profiling by federal law enforcement in 2003 but it applied only to national security cases and did not limit officers from discriminating based on factors apart from race, such as national origin, religion or sexual orientation.
It doesn’t take more than a cursory glance at what Holder is working on to understand that this entire exercise is window dressing. It’s designed to bolster the Obama administration’s credibility with the elements of his base that are all Hands Up at the moment over Ferguson. The Attorney General is not about to step on the toes of every state, county and local police department in the country regarding their day to day operations even if he believed he could find the authority to do so. These guidelines will not apply to the police in Ferguson, the NYPD or the state troopers trying to keep the highways clear of Michael Brown protesters seeking to shut down traffic.
These guidelines – whatever they turn out to be – will apply exclusively to federal law enforcement agencies. The most numerous and well known among these organizations which fall under Justice are groups like the ATF, DEA, FBI and the United States Marshals Service. And when we talk about racial profiling, these aren’t the groups that come to mind. The FBI isn’t usually out there monitoring traffic violations and looking for erratic driving on the New Jersey Turnpike. When they jump into a case, it’s generally pretty specific.
Possibly more interesting is the fact that these rules could apply to ICE, since it falls under the auspices of Homeland Security. How does one avoid racial profiling when looking for illegal immigrants coming over the border? If the guidelines are too broad and sweeping, that could make for some interesting discussions among the border patrol. But as with the rest of this, the practical upshot will be essentially no change to the status quo. This is a political maneuver aimed at calming the waters among the President’s base while doing little or nothing of consequence where the rubber meets the road. It’s more bread and circuses to keep the plebes at peace and nothing more.