Introduction on the Nature and Definition of Racial Profiling
Racial profiling is an issue that is not only complex, but also multifaceted. Professionally based police practices and devoted police officers have been on the forefront, in making our communities a safe place to live. Most of the police officers are committed people who dispense their risky duties with a great deal of honour and commitment. Nevertheless, in the communities of colour, resentment and distrust have arisen due to perceptions of some police officers taking part in racial profiling.
Although these communities encourage the roles played by the police in fighting crime, they believe that proper policing will be enhanced when the police protect the civil liberties of all citizens as well as ensuring that the crime rate within the community is low. When there is unfairness, bias, and disrespect in law enforcement, there is lack of willingness, among communities of colour to cooperate in a number of ways. These include confiding in and trusting police officers, taking part in problem-solving activities, reporting crime, serving on juries or acting as witnesses in trials (Muffler, 2006, p. 60).
When determining the accuracy of the claims of racial profiling, an analysis regarding the problem’s nature and scope is determined by how one defines racial profiling. In general, racial profiling refers to a police based action that utilizes ethnicity, nationality or race rather than someone’s behaviour or other relevant information, to help them ascertain the person’s involvement in crime (Muffler, 2006, p. 60). Most scholars agree with the two-fold corollary principles that go alongside the adoption of this definition.
On one hand, the police may not utilize ethnic and racial stereotypes as criteria in selecting who should be stopped and searched. On the other hand, the police could use ethnicity or race to ascertain whether someone matches a certain suspect’s specific description. It is hard reaching a consensus on whether or not the police can use race to deal with a crime perpetrated by a group of individuals, who have common ethnic or racial characteristics.
When the police recognize an individual as being part of a criminal organization, they may use this information to investigate more into the total circumstances encompassing the criminal activity. For instance, a good number of criminal organizations are composed of members that share common characteristics, at the national ethnic and racial levels. Therefore, if the police utilize someone’s national origin, ethnicity and race to determine whether that particular individual is part of the criminal organization, they are said to have been involved in racial profiling (Muffler, 2006, p. 60).
Racial profiling is practised at many levels but the scope of this paper will focus on its use at police stops and in crime reduction. The next part looks at the evidence for racial profiling and the other section highlights its effectiveness in reducing terrorism.
Anecdotal and Empirical Evidence of Racial Profiling
Personal anecdotes and individual stories help to better understand the experiences of people who have claimed to have been stopped on grounds of racial profiling (Blank et al, 2004). These also raise more concerns regarding the stop and search actions by police. A good example is a sample of David Harris report in 1999 that shows the emotional effect of such practices (Kanovitz, 2010, p. 137). Most racial profiling accounts feature the account of police stopping a vehicle primarily because the commuters do not appear to match the vehicle they are traveling in. A good example is that of Dr. Elmo Randolph, an African American dentist. On his frequent travels from home to his office located in New Jersey, he’s been stopped by the New Jersey police for at least fifty times, for many years. He does not over speed and claims he’s yet to be given a ticket.
After stopping his gold BMW, the police often request him to produce both the license and registration. They then go ahead, to ask him whether he is ferrying weapons or drugs in his car. Therefore, in such a case, the police attribute crime and drug trafficking to people of colour, and so, end up mistaking Dr. Elmo Randolph to be a perpetrator of the same. Another complaint has been that of police stopping people of colour who commute in predominantly white inhabited regions. This is because the police believe that certain neighbourhoods do not belong to the people of colour since they may engage in crime, if allowed to get to such areas. This kind of profiling was reported by Alvin Penn (African – American) who was the deputy president of the Connecticut State Senate.
The most commonly reported cases from individuals that belong to the community of colour were related to being stopped because of very minor traffic violations. These include improper signalling prior to switching lanes, presence of an illegible licence plate and underinflated tyres. A similar case was that experienced by Robert Wilkins, a graduate of Harvard Law School. He was travelling from a funeral with other members of his family when their car was stopped for speeding at 10 miles more than the acceptable limit and were also frisked for drug trafficking. This took place as they were rained on for a long period. He later on fined a law suit on this (Muffler, 2006, p. 62).
On the other hand, there is empirical evidence for racial profiling. The latest data collection attempts in New York and New Jersey have been used as confirmation for the autonomous empirical findings, utilized in court cases. Reports from the study indicate that a greater percentage of those people who were stopped to be searched, were people of colour. A study into the productivity of the searches, reveal that searches that resulted in arrest or seizure of the black motorists were more compared to those leading to the arrest and seizure of the white motorists. Also, minority motorists represented about 80% of the searches (Muffler, 2006, p. 64).
The Effectiveness of Racial Profiling in Reducing Terrorism
Measures to counter terrorism are only effective if they can either result to prevention of a terrorism attack, or have the potential to reduce the terrorist attack’s impact after it has occurred. Despite the U.S government’s attempts to help people predict the possibility of a terrorist attack, through the use of the colour coded system, it is still tricky to know when such an attack is likely to occur.
A better prediction of terror attacks could better be done if we knew the number of successful attacks in an area as well as the number of unsuccessful ones. Whereas the successful ones are seldom, the unsuccessful ones are not normally documented. Besides, we need a concise and complete data regarding the terrorist groups and their ability and preparedness to unleash an attack. Therefore, racial profiling may not be very helpful. This is because data regarding the behaviour of individual terrorists or groups they belong to could play a bigger role in minimising terrorism, as compared to racial profiling (Forst, Greene & Lynch, 2011, p. 313-314).
Racial profiling refers to using an individual or a group’s national origin, ethnicity or race as criteria to ascertain their involvement in criminal activities. It is practised in many aspects, including crime reduction and at police stops. The evidence for social profiling is both empirical and anecdotal. Using racial profiling to reduce terrorism is not effective.
Blank et al (2004), Measuring Racial Discrimination, Washington DC: National Academies Press.
Forst, B. Greene, J.R. & Lynch, J.P. (2011), Criminologists on Terrorism and Homeland Security, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kanovitz, J.R. (2010), Constitutional Law, New Providence, NJ: Elsevier.
Muffler, S.J. (2006), Racial Profiling: Issues, data and analyses. New York: Nova Science Publishers.