Maine civil rights advocates announced their support this morning for national legislation that would define and ban racial profiling by law enforcement.

The Maine Civil Liberties Union and the Maine People’s Alliance held a press conference in front of the federal courthouse in Portland this morning to announce the release of a national report on racial profiling, intended to support the End Racial Profiling Act, a bill being submitted to Congress.

The report summarizes testimony given at hearings across the country this summer – including Maine – citing incidents where people were stopped or questioned for no reason other than their ethnicity.

The extent and nature of the problem varies from state to state, so a national law would create a single standard and provide remedies to people are stopped or questioned for no justifiable reason, said Ben Chin, of the Maine People’s Allliance.

Often victims of racial profiling are questioned and released with no record of the interaction, so the extent of the problem is difficult to document, said Alysia Melnick, of the MCLU. That makes it hard to know how serious the problem is in Maine. She said a task force established by the Legislature in Maine is seeking to collect data to determine the extent to which racial profiling occurs n Maine.

The Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law, she said, but there are major obstacles facing victims who want to file complaints or take legal action.

Racial profiling creates suspicion in minority communities, making members of those communities less likely to cooperate with authorities on important public safety investigations and initiatives, the advocates said. That makes it harder for police to ensure the safety and freedom of all people in a community, they said.