Racial Profiling against Blacks, Hispanics and Arab Americans | My Paper Hub
Racial profiling refers to the use of
Racial profiling refers to the use of
ethnicity or race as grounds for suspecting individuals of having committed a
particular offense. It can also be defined as the targeting of specific
individuals (particularly on the basis of their race) by law enforcement
authorities based on their personal characteristics rather than their behavior.
Racial profiling is generally used to encompass more than only the race of a
person. Apart from race, it may also encompass; ethnicity, religion, and
national origin. The degree to which law enforcement authorities use these
personal characteristics or impermissible means to determine which individuals
to stop, question, detain or subject them to other law enforcement activities
is also a significant factor here. Note that the qualifying term
“impermissible” in the definition indicates that reliance on the enforcement
authorities on ethnicity, national origin, religion or race is not prohibited
in all circumstances. Rather, it aims at law enforcement activities premised on
the erroneous assumption that individuals of a certain race, national origin,
religion or ethnicity are more likely to be associated with particular types of
unlawful conduct than other from another ethnicity, race, religion or national
origin. Therefore, it’s not racial profiling when law enforcement authorities
rely on these personal attributes as part of a subject description or connect
it with an investigation if there exists sufficient or reliable information
that links a person of certain ethnicity, race, religion or national origin to
a particular scheme, organization or incident.("What Is
Racial Profiling?” 2016).
On the other hand, profiling refers to
any action initiated by the police that uses a compilation of the physical,
motivational, behavioral or even background characteristics for a kind of
perpetrator to identify a certain individual as being, having been engaged in
criminal activity or having the potential to perpetrate a crime (Shusta, Levine, Wong, Wolson, & Harris, 2014 p.346).
Law enforcement officers, customs and border patrol agents, and airport
security personnel among other occupations use profiles. It is the only way to
narrow the amount of information from which to make decisions such as whether
or not to stop a person for further investigations.
Law enforcement officers use profiling to look for characteristics that
indicate the probability of criminal acts or factors that tend to correlate
with threatening or dangerous behavior.
For most officers, most characteristics have been internalized based on
training and experience. If they have experienced dangerous encounters while on
duty, these experiences prepare them for similar future events. The experience
and training the officers acquire provides them with indicators to look for so
as to prevent harm to themselves and others as well as identify suspicious
events or individuals and warrant closer attention. The focus helps police
officers and civilians to decide what action is wise to take when confronted by
a similar situation or person. This doesn’t necessarily mean officers using
profiling in this way are biased. Some degree of profiling tends to be
appropriate or even necessary if it doesn’t involve abuse. Some people (like
writer Ira Straus) would go further to describe profiling as stereotyping.
According to Straus, profiling is universal and just like the police; everyone
depends on it for a preliminary rating of their risks with every individual
they run into, and if they do not profile explicitly, then they do it
implicitly. If they do not profile consciously, they do it unconsciously.
Straus writes that all investigative and police efforts involve working from
direct and indirect ends. The direct end
means following the trail of particular leads and informants and the indirect
end being profiling. He further states “To profile is morally risky…the dangers
of unfair and unreasonable profiling that is profiling based on unfounded
prejudices such as racism are well-known. (Straus 2002) He further implies that
profiling is not always based on accurate data or information. When meanings
placed on observations are biased, assumptions and conclusions may be incorrect,
thus leading to inappropriate actions, behavior and attitudes (p.347)
In the definition mentioned above for
racial profiling, race doesn’t need to be the only factor used by law
enforcement authorities to decide whom to subject to investigative procedures.
Race is often a factor even when individuals are not targeted by law
enforcement authorities only because of their race. As a matter of fact, it’s a
decisive factor in guiding law enforcement decisions on who to stop, question,
detain or subject to other investigative procedures. Selective law enforcement
based partly on race is no less offensive to the principle of equal justice or
pernicious than law enforcement based solely on race.
Perceived or actual racial profiling by
law enforcement officers mainly affects Hispanics, blacks, and Arab Americans
among other minority groups from all walks of life. In fact, racial profiling
cuts across every vocation and all levels of the socioeconomic ladder. The
extent to which an individual’s ethnicity, race or national origin can be
easily used as factors to target suspects for stops, searches, questioning and
detainment has been a great concern of law enforcement and citizens for quite
some time. The unsupported assertion that an officer making field and traffic interrogation
stops of nonwhite individuals is making a race-based decision that is deeply
rooted in racial prejudice is what compounds the controversy over racial
profiling. The growing concerns became even more critical especially by (Arab
Americans) since the war on terror was declared on September 11, 2001 (p 345).
Racial profiling dates back to the 1990s
when numerous concerns were raised about police using racial profiling as a
pretext to stop, search, question and perhaps arrest individuals. This became a
major focus of scholars, researchers, politicians, law enforcement
administrators and more importantly minority communities and individuals.
National surveys during that period indicated that most Americans (both white
and black) believed racial profiling was commonplace in the United States
although 80 percent of respondents opposed the practice. People felt that the
police were often guilty of bias in their treatment of ethnic and racial
minorities and that the behavior had been going on for a long time. (p.346)
The cause of racial profiling can be
attributed to the way people often form tentative judgments or mental images
about others and the surrounding situation or circumstances both consciously
and subconsciously which might be a form of stereotyping. It is this type of
stereotyping or rather looking for what one perceives to be indicators that
offer a preliminary mental rating of potential risk to an individual
encountering a particular person or event. This mental action involves both the
conscious and unconscious thought processes whereby a person;
Makes observations and selects data obtained from that person’s past
Adds personal and cultural meaning to what he/she observes
Makes assumptions based on the meaning attributed to observations
Draws conclusions based on his/her own beliefs and
This process comprises fundamental
decision making for all people in their lives and guides a person’s
interpretation of events. The socialization of a person including how they were
raised by their parents plays a significant role in determining decisions and
actions that follow these judgments in both personal and professional settings.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has held
that racial profiling is unconstitutional as it violates the constitutional
requirements that all citizens be accorded equal protection of the law. The
"Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement
Agencies" issued by the United States department of justice in 2003 says; “Racial
profiling" at its core concerns the invidious use of race or ethnicity as
a criterion in conducting stops, searches and other law enforcement
investigative procedures. It is premised on the erroneous assumption that any
particular individual of one race or ethnicity is more likely to engage in
misconduct than any particular individual of another race or ethnicity. Racial
profiling in law enforcement is not merely wrong, but also ineffective.
Race-based assumptions in law enforcement perpetuate negative racial
stereotypes that are harmful to our rich and diverse democracy, and materially
impair our efforts to maintain a fair and just society”.
The federal government may have declared
racial profiling as “wrong,” “ineffective,” “invidious,” and “harmful to our
rich democracy” but it persists as confirmed by quantitative and qualitative
evidence collected at local, state and federal levels. The evidence also
indicates that racial profiling is routinely encouraged by misguided federal
policies and programs that incentivize and encourage law enforcement
authorities to engage in the malpractice. Racial profiling is mainly used in
three contexts namely;
Street-level crime and
Immigration law enforcement
This breakdown is artificial to some
extent, and there are obvious points of overlap among the contexts. For
instance, when Hispanics are targeted by law enforcement officers for engaging
in drug trafficking or other street-level crimes find themselves profiled as
suspects of undocumented immigration. Arab Americans who are targeted as
potential terrorists are also questioned whether they are in the country
illegally. It’s critical to discuss racial profiling in each of the three
mentioned contexts separately even if it allows for a more context-specific
Before September 11, 2001, the use of law
enforcement agencies of profiles including race, national origin or ethnicity
and the act of profiling using these criteria had come to be condemned in the United
States. In fact, there was an outcry among the general public against these
actions as 80 percent of Americans opposed racial profiling. After the
horrendous terror attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon,
the attitude changed. Polls taken afterward indicated that 70 percent of
Americans deemed it necessary to conduct some form of profiling so as to
promote public safety. The US department of homeland security (DHS) was
established, and law enforcement agencies and the military was challenged to
foster security. The scope of the state of emergency created by the terrorist
altered both government policy and public opinion on profiles and profiling
based on ethnicity and national origin particularly regarding the legitimacy
and necessity of the practices. (p.348)
The global terrorist threat from the
Taliban, al-Qaida among other Islamist extremists and the conflicts in the
Middle East made the police at all levels to develop strategies for detecting
and arresting terrorists. Tentative profiles were hurriedly developed based on
obvious experience and characteristics. Since all terrorists involved in the
9/11 attacks were Islamic males originating from the Middle East, the issue was
whether security personnel or law enforcement officers could profile suspicious
men with similar backgrounds for stops, increased questioning or searches.
Profiling using those criteria began to be exercised based on various factors
that were common to these particular terrorists;
Young males that appear to be Arabs
Primarily originating from Saudi Arabia
Harboring deep hatred of immorality, materialism, and western decadence
Trained in fundamentalist religious or al-Qaida camps in Pakistan or
Adherents of Islam inspired by fundamentalist clergy to religious
• Street level crime
Empirical evidence supports the existence
of racial profiling on USA’s roadways. A
2005 national report (the most recent data available) by the Bureau of Justice
Statistics in the US Department of Labor indicated that there was lack of
uniformity during traffic stops as police actions were based on racial and
ethnic categories. Black drivers (4.5%) were twice likely to be arrested during
a traffic stop than white drivers (2.1%) Hispanic drivers (65%) were more
likely to receive a ticket than Black (55.8%) or White (56.2%) drivers.
Moreover, Whites (9.7%) were more likely to receive a written warning than
Hispanics (5.9%). Also Whites (18.6%) were more likely to get a verbal warning
from the police than Blacks (13.7%). In regards to searching minority motorists
at a traffic stop, Black motorists (9.5%) and the Hispanic ones (8.8%) were
searched at higher rates than their White counterparts (3.6%). This probability
of experiencing a search did not change for any race be it Blacks, Hispanics or
whites from the year 2002 to 2005. Several quantitative pieces of evidence
reported in various states including California, New York, Arizona, New Jersey,
Mississippi, Texas and Illinois among others confirms this nationwide data.
• Immigration law enforcement
The federal government has shifted much
if its responsibility for the enforcement of civil immigration laws to local
and state law enforcement authorities. DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) is accountable for enforcing federal immigration laws via Agreements of
Cooperation in Communities to Enhance Safety and Security (alias ICE ACCESS
programs). Most notable of these programs is the 287 (g) program of the
Immigration and Nationality Act. This program allows local and state law
enforcement to enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with DHS that allows them
to perform limited immigration enforcement activities as long as there is
training and supervision by ICE. Unfortunately, clear statements of intent have
not guided the operation of this program. Together with the 2002 OLC “inherent
authority,” the program has been used by local land state law enforcement
officers to stop, question and detain Hispanic individuals. The Hispanic community
was targeted in a big way to enforce federal immigration laws, thereby
profiling large numbers of Hispanics most of whom are legal American citizens
as suspected illegal immigrants. ("The Reality of
Racial Profiling", 2016).
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