III. The Media Coverage of Racial Profiling Prior to September 11th

In 1992, the Boston Globe published an article entitled Guilty . . . of Being Black; Black Men Say Success Doesn't Save Them from Being Suspected, Harassed, and Detained. In the article, several prominent African American professional men described how law enforcement authorities had racially profiled them. The list included such notables as Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, then-Associate Attorney General of the United States Wayne Budd, then-Celtic draft pick Dee Brown, Executive Producer of Channel 5 Karl Nurse, and the executive producer of the film “Eyes on the Prize,” Henry Hampton.

Primetime Live broadcasted a segment devoted to “driving while black.” In the segment, four young African American men drove a late model Mercedes Benz equipped with a hidden camera. The young men were either college students or recent college graduates, and a family member owned the luxury car. The police allegedly stopped the car because the driver failed to signal a lane change. The hidden camera showed how the police asked the young men to leave the car while the police did a full search. A hidden microphone overheard the police state that they thought illegal drugs were contained in a carry-on case located in the trunk. The four men were eventually released after no illegal substances were found in the car. Primetime Live then went back to the intersection and showed that most drivers failed to signal when changing lanes at the same intersection. This evidence suggested that law enforcement detained the four African Americans on pretext, and that the search went beyond what was required for a traffic stop.

These examples show that before September 11th, the media wanted to demonstrate that racial profiling was both pervasive and ineffective. Even so, this coverage was often sporadic and failed to fully counteract other news coverage contributing to the creation of racial stereotypes.