The distinguished Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Studies, was arrested for trying to break into someone’s house. It happened to be his own (Project America; 2008). This is but one of numerous cases of racial profiling that has been documented in this country and that points to the injustice and irrationality of singling out ethnic minorities for alleged crimes that these individuals have never perpetrated. This is the definition of racial profiling. More specifically, racial profiling is the practice of law enforcement officers stopping an individual of a certain race or ethnicity and investigating them based on their ethnicity. Such practices may occur in traffic routines, guns or drugs (African-Americans), illegal immigration (Hispanics or Latinos), or in matters connected with security (Muslims and Arabs).
Racial profiling was authorized in 2001 with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a division of United States Department of Justice, which established the web-based Racial Profiling Data Collection Resource Center. The website was designed to train police officials in the ropes and tactics of racial profiling and also served as clearing house for relevant individuals interested in both research and practice of the subject (The Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University, 2011). In 2003, however, the Department of Justice issued its Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies forbidding the practice of racial profiling by federal law enforcement officials (Amnesty International USA, 2007) .
The following essay considers arguments for and against racial profiling and indicates why racial profiling is incorrect.
Racial Profiling: Its History
Racial profiling is forbidden in most states and in fact, may be prohibited based on the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments alone where the Fourth insists that no individual can be searched without a warrant and the Fourteenth states that all are to be treated equally in the eyes of the Law. The practice may be un-American in theory but it is definitely American in regards to its long history.
Just a few nuggets:
In 1642, John Elkin was acquitted three times even though he had confessed to the murder of an American Indian leader named Yowocomco. His fellow colonists refused to punish a White man for killing an Indian. The governor frustrated with the verdict ordered a fourth trial, at which point Elkin was incriminated on the lesser charge of manslaughter.
In 1669, the Commonwealth of Virginia passed the Casual Slave Killing Act where masters were allowed to kill their slaves
1919 saw the Palmer Raids where U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer collected dossiers on 150,000 first-generation immigrants, and the arrest and summary deportation of more than 10,000 immigrants without trial.
In 1944, the U.S. involuntarily detained some 114,000 Japanese and ruled, in Korematsu v. United States, that ethnic profiling was not unconstitutional and may be practiced during national unrest.
Ethnic profiling, and its injustices have been practiced as recently as 2001 where following the September attack, the Bush Administration rounded up an unknown number of Muslin individuals and deported some whilst many others were sent off to Guantanamo Bay where they still are today without even having received fair trial. In 2003, as shallow attempt to redress that wrong. Bush signed an executive order banning arrest that would be based on race, color, and ethnicity. The order was applicable for 70 federal agencies (About.com; online). But, this was too little and too soon.
Meanwhile, institutions such as the ACLU roundly criticize racial profiling and call for various discriminatory policies to be dismantled.
Arguments for Racial Profiling
On the one hand, perpetrators of accident collision, drugs, and violence seem to be repeatedly of the same race. It makes sense, therefore, to look out for suspects who share these characteristics both in order to prevent further violence and in order to expend the limited budgetary resources, people, and time that cannot be expended on searching and detaining everyone. Islam has committed itself to terrorism and to a fight against the West in general and against America in particular. It makes sense, therefore, to keep an eye out for people of Islamic extraction. The law of mathematical risks dictates that one takes precautions where it is most calculated to happen.
Doing so is particularly important since America has only limited resources and cannot arbitrarily stop every random individual hoping to fall lucky in discovering drugs or weapons. Rationalism and the scientific law of probability states that one should use history and experience in formulating one’s chances, and this is precisely what the police do. Were they not to do so, precious time and money may be misspent in targeting innocent individuals whilst allowing the guilty ones to escape simply because of allegations that targeting them is discriminatory and prejudicial behavior. This was exactly the case with Mohamed Atta and his companion who would have been detained by a suspicious airline ticketing agent if not for the proscription against racial profiling (Paula Zahn Now, 2005).
Accordingly, economists argue that the fact that police consistently find the same ethnicity involved in violence, crimes, drugs, or terrorism does not indicate prejudice on the part of police but rather a pattern that needs to be taken notice of. What is happening is a certain ‘hit rate’ trend that appears time and again a certain ethnicity has been searched. Suspects of a certain race should be stopped for; otherwise, the far greater expense and misery of bloodshed would be the result.
A majority of Americans — according to the 2011 Rasmussen Report — support racial profiling considering the practice one that will make their country safer (Rasmussenreports.com, 2011). So-called racial profiling, in short, is one not of bigotry but of calculated and prudent defense.
Arguments against Racial Profiling
On the other hand, civil liberty advocates protest that police (and other officials) deliberately focus on people of minority extraction to the almost total exclusion of White individuals. Critics of racial profiling argue that the statistics show no evidence that Blacks (or other minority races such as Hispanics) are more involved in drugs or violence than Whites. Take Timothy Veigh as an instance. Rather, over and again, we find that it is certain individuals who are singled out and often treated roughly. Bigotry and prejudice is a clear factor. Critics of racial profiling argue that the police can no more use race in deciding who to search than prosecutors can use race in deciding whom to charge. Suspects must be given their fair day in court and it is only because a large number of specific individuals of a certain race have been suspended in the first place that a ‘hit rate’ has been discovered. Had Whites been investigated, the ‘hit rate’ may have pointed to them.
The phenomenon of racial profiling is most clearly demonstrated in the following graph printed by Project America (2008). The graph shows rates of Black, White, and Hispanic drivers who were stopped in 2002 and 2005:
The graph was produced by the study conducted by the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics who tracked the rates of routine traffic stops during those years. They discovered that White, Black and Hispanic drivers had an even chance of being stopped on the road. Yet only 3.5 — 3.6% of white drivers were searched in contrast to the enormously higher rate of 10.2-11.4% and 9.5 — 8.8% of Blacks and Hispanics who were searched during those years (Project America; 2008). It was evident that Blacks and Hispanics were discriminated against. The researchers of the sites say that statistics have not only stayed constant but also ratcheted since.
One organization that is particularly against racial profiling is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which states that racial profiling is a form of discrimination:
“Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, nationality or on any other particular identity undermines the basic human rights and freedoms to which every person is entitled” (Aclu.org.)
As ACLU points out, the Fourteenth Amendment states that all must be treated equally under the Law. Racial profiling violates this dictate.
The One America organization, one of the institutions that are in the forefront of the fight against racial profiling urges for repeal of the following three policies:
1. Congress should introduce and pass the “End Racial Profiling Act” which would ban racial profiling at the federal, state and local level.
2. The Obama Administration should revise the 2003 Department of Justice guidance on racial profiling to eliminate the border and national security loopholes, to include profiling based on religion and national origin, and to ensure that the guidance is enforceable.
3. Congress and the Obama Administration should eliminate Department of Homeland Security programs such as 287(g), CAP and the Secure Communities initiative that result in racial profiling. (One America; 2010).
My Opinion on Racial Profiling
Purview of racial profiling shows that for success of racial profiling to occur and rationalization of its practices, three basic conditions must occur. These are:
1. That racial profiling must reduce the amount of profiled crime
2. That it does so whilst using police resources efficiently
3. That it does so without producing a “ratchet effect” on the profiled population.
Going through these factors one by one, we see that:
1. Apparently, racial profiling does not appear to be an effective tool for law enforcement to use in policing society, since drugs and other crimes, rather than decreasing, seem to have increased over the years. And this is so despite once common policy of racial profiling. Therefore Factor One does not hold since racial profiling does not reduce the amount of profiled crime.
2. The practice of racial profiling does not use police resources efficiently, since a large wastage of money and labor forces are used in a disorganized manner to flag down certain ethnicities. The way the practice is achieved, too, is disorganized leading to no investment and too much wastage of expense, unnecessary conflict, and unnecessary hard feelings that can (and often do) spiral into law suits that cost the nation money.
3. Racial profiling seems to have produced a ratchet effect on the population since it causes significant cost of money and suffering to minority families and communities resulting in hard feelings to oppressors. In the meantime, Whites, who are involved in the same crime (e.g. drugs); remain free and ready to perpetrate the loop. Distrust, hostility and anger are a result.
Other negative consequences are also self-labeling where not only does the media (always out for sensational stories) reinforce the stereotype of a particular ethnic race (as, for instance, Muslims connected with terrorism), but the minority race begins to associate itself with that negative attribute too. The result — rather than achieving increasing security for the nation, only intensifies bigotry, fission, and insecurity.
Law enforcement should serve to reduce terror rather than increase it. Assessment of the goals of racial profiling show that none of its goals have been met. On the contrary, its practice seems to intensify terror and hatred rather than to diffuse it. The United States is a democracy. It is supposed to treat all people equal and to help minorities slip into and become accepted by the country, rather than be singled out as potential threats. Racial profiling is not only not preventing increase of crime, drugs, and violence but also seems to disseminate conflict and inter-racial dissension. It is for these reasons that I consider racial profiling to be an ineffective tool for law enforcement to use in policing society and is not only ineffective but also potentially destructive. Better methods should be found to police, prevent, and monitor crime.
About.com. “Racial Profiling in the United States” http://civilliberty.about.com/od/lawenforcementterrorism/tp/History-of-Racial-Profiling.htm
Aclu.org “Racial Profiling.”
Keating, C (2012) “Racial profiling law strengthened.” Hartford Courant Project America
The Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University (2011) “Racial Profiling Data Collection Resource Center”
Amnesty International USA ( 2007) “Threat and Humiliation: Racial Profiling, National Security, and Human Rights in the United States” http://www.amnestyusa.org/racial_profiling/report/index.html.
Rasmussenreports.com (2011-11-04) “60% Say Profiling Necessary in Today’s Society – Rasmussen Reportsâ„¢.” http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/general_lifestyle/november_2011/60_say_profiling_necessary_in_today_s_society
Paula Zahn Now. (February 18, 2005). “Man Says Charity Donation Led to Federal Probe; Gate Agent Relives 9/11 Mistake; Midwest Mom by Day, Cyberspy by Night” CNN
One America (2010)
Project America. (2008) “Crime: Crime Rates: Racial Profiling” http://www.project.org/info.php?recordID=168
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