(CNSNews.com) - The Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network and a potential presidential candidate for the 2004 race, warned lawmakers Thursday to avoid racial profiling as they seek ways to prevent future terrorist attacks.
"In the midst of the response and reaction and outrage to what occurred at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it's important that we not, in a flawed strategy, turn back the pages of progress to where more innocent people become discomforted and outright violated," Sharpton told reporters in Washington.
"We cannot go back to an era when it is acceptable for law enforcement to target or profile people based on their race or nationality," he added.
Sharpton went on to say that current legislation being proposed in Congress would target people of Middle Eastern descent and "strikes at the core of what America ought to represent," creating division at a time the U.S. should be united.
"The threat of this anti-terrorism bill is to rob the civil rights and civil liberties, and in fact dignity," he said. "But it is misdirected if we begin to go back to something that divides America rather than unites America, at a time when we need to stand together against common enemies.
"To begin targeting race and religion will divide a nation that needs to be united in the face of these threats, and not only will it not protect us from terrorism, it will break the morale of the citizens that ought to be united and stand together in this time," Sharpton said.
Sharpton added that the proposed legislation is an attempt by the right to bring back legalized racial profiling.
"This bill, in my judgment is nothing short of an attempt to move forward in a right wing kind of lockdown of America that we have tried to resist for 5-6 years [while fighting] racial profiling," he said. "All that work [against racial profiling] would be thrown out the window in the name of fighting terrorism, when in fact profiling helps terrorists."
Sharpton said that above all, civil liberties in the U.S. must be protected if it is to win its new war against terrorism.
"The price we must pay against terrorism is a price of unity, a price of building our intelligence, but not a promise of saying we must check in our civil rights and civil liberties at the door, because we are not saving America. We are destroying an America that so many others want to destroy," he said. "It's absolutely unpatriotic not to support this country at this time, but it is also unpatriotic to undermine liberty and rights of the citizens of the country that makes the country the promise it is in the first place."