What is racial profiling?
Racial profiling refers to the use of an individual’s race or ethnicity by law enforcement personnel as a key factor in deciding whether to engage in enforcement (e.g. make a traffic stop or arrest). The practice is controversial and is illegal in many jurisdictions.
The concept of racial profiling has been defined in many ways, including:
“Any police-initiated action that relies on the race, ethnicity, or national origin rather than the behavior of an individual or information that leads the police to a particular individual who has been identified as being, or having been, engaged in criminal activity.”
“Racially-biased policing occurs when law enforcement inappropriately considers race or ethnicity in deciding with whom and how to intervene in an enforcement capacity.”
“Using race as a key factor in deciding whether to make a traffic stop.”
“In the literature to date, there appear to be at least two clearly distinguishable definitions of the term ‘racial profiling’: a narrow definition and a broad definition… Under the narrow definition, racial profiling occurs when a police officer stops, questions, arrests, and/or searches someone solely on the basis of the person’s race or ethnicity… Under the broader definition, racial profiling occurs whenever police routinely use race as a factor that, along with an accumulation of other factors, causes an officer to react with suspicion and take action.”
“Use by law enforcement personnel of an individual’s race or ethnicity as a factor in articulating reasonable suspicion to stop, question or arrest an individual, unless race or ethnicity is part of an identifying description of a specific suspect for a specific crime.”
In the United States…
At a federal level, racial profiling is challenged by both the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the right to be safe from search and seizure without a warrant (which is to be issued “upon probable cause”), and the Fourteenth Amendment which requires that all citizens be treated equally under the law.
In his February 27, 2001, address to a Joint Session of Congress, President George W. Bush declared, “Racial profiling is wrong, and we will end it in America. In so doing, we will not hinder the work of our nation’s brave police officers. They protect us every day — often at great risk. But by stopping the abuses of a few, we will add to the public confidence our police officers earn and deserve.”
In June 2001, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component of the Office of Justice Programs, United States Department of Justice, awarded the Northeastern research team a grant to create the web-based Racial Profiling Data Collection Resource Center. It now maintains a website designed to be a central clearing house for police agencies, legislators, community leaders, social scientists, legal researchers, and journalists to access information about current data collection efforts, legislation and model policies, police-community initiatives, and methodological tools that can be used to collect and analyze racial profiling data. The website contains information on the background of data collection, jurisdictions currently collecting data, community groups, legislation that is pending and enacted in states across the country, and has information on planning and implementing data collection procedures, training officers in to implement these systems, and analyzing and reporting the data and results.
In June 2003, the Department of Justice issued its Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies forbidding racial profiling by federal law enforcement officials.
Several U.S. states now have reporting requirements for incidents of racial profiling.Texas, for example requires all agencies to provide annual reports to its Law Enforcement Commission. The requirement began on September 1, 2001, when the State of Texas passed a law to require all law enforcement agencies in the State to begin collecting certain data in connection to traffic or pedestrian stops beginning on January 1, 2002. Based on that data, the law mandated law enforcement agencies to submit a report to the law enforcement agencies’ governing body beginning March 1, 2003 and each year thereafter no later than March 1. The law is found in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure beginning with Article 2.131. Additionally, on January 1, 2011, all law enforcement agencies began submitting annual reports to the Texas State Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Education Commission. The submitted reports can be accessed on the Commission’s website for public review.
Arizona SB 1070…
In April 2010, Arizona enacted SB 1070, a law that would require law-enforcement officers to verify the citizenship of individuals they stop if they have reasonable suspicion that they may be in the United States illegally. The law states that “Any person who is arrested shall have the person’s immigration status determined before the person is released”. United States federal law requires that all aliens who remain in the United States for more than 30 days are to register with the U.S. government and to have all registration documents with them at all time. Arizona made it a misdemeanor crime for an alien 14 years of age and older to be found without carrying these documents at all times.
According to SB 1070, law-enforcement officials may not consider “race, color, or national origin” in the enforcement of the law, except under the circumstances allowed under the United States and Arizona constitutions.
In June 2012, the majority of SB 1070 was struck down by the United States Supreme Court, while the provision allowing for an immigration check on detained persons was upheld.
Critics of racial profiling argue that the individual rights of a suspect are violated if race is used as a factor in that suspicion. Notably, civil liberties organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have stated that racial profiling is a form of discrimination, stating, “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.”
Responding to such criticisms are local community groups who seek to collect data, analyze trends and how they might correspond to public perceptions of profiling, and solicit ideas aimed at diminishing cultural and racial biases.
The airline ticketing agent who checked in (Mohamed Atta), the leader of the September 11 attacks, and a companion, would afterwards say that looking at the pair his first reaction was to think, “If this doesn’t look like two Arab terrorists, I’ve never seen two Arab terrorists.” But he immediately felt guilty, and had no legal grounds to search on the basis of their suspicious appearance had he wished to.
In December 2001, an American citizen of Middle Eastern descent named Assem Bayaa cleared all the security checks at Los Angeles airport and attempted to board a flight to New York. Upon boarding, he was told that he made the passengers uncomfortable by being on board the plane and was asked to leave. Once off the plane, he wasn’t searched or questioned any further and the only consolation he was given was a boarding pass for the next flight. He filed a lawsuit on the basis of discrimination against United Airlines.
United Airlines filed a counter motion which was dismissed by a district judge on October 11, 2002. In June 2005, the ACLU announced a settlement between Bayaa and United Airlines who still disputed Bayaa’s allegations, but noted that the settlement “was in the best interest of all”.
In the case of racial profiling drivers, the police officers judgments suggest biased policing against colored drivers.
Black drivers felt that they were being pulled over by law enforcement officers simply because of their skin color. However, some argue in favor of the “veil of darkness” hypothesis, which states that police are less likely to know the race of a driver before they make a stop at nighttime as opposed to in the daytime. Referring to the veil of darkness hypothesis, it is suggested that if the race distribution of drivers stopped during the day differs from that of drivers stopped at night, officers are engaging in racial profiling.
For example, in one study done by Jeffrey Grogger and Greg Ridgeway, the veil of darkness hypothesis was used to determine whether or not racial profiling in traffic stops occurs in Oakland, California. The conductors found that there was little evidence of racial profiling in traffic stops made in Oakland. Legislation has been proposed with the intent of ending racial profiling in traffic stops. There have been many states that have begun collecting data on the details of the traffic stops in order to monitor racial profiling. Profiling is on an individual basis and it is difficult to pinpoint the cause of arrests or stops since the studies allow officers to change their behavior accordingly.
For example, in the court case of City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, Adolf Lyons was stopped by police officers because of a faulty taillight; police officers choked him until he was unconscious. Plaintiffs in the case promoted equality yet it was ultimately dependent on appearance and race. In a recent journal comparing the 1990s to the present, studies have established that when the community criticized police for targeting the black community during traffic stops it received more media coverage and toned down racial profiling. However, whenever there was a significant lack of media coverage or concern with racial profiling, the amount of arrests and traffic stops for the African-American community would significantly rise again.
Some believe that inner city residents of Latino communities are subjected to racial profiling because of theories such as the “gang suppression model”. The “gang suppression model” is believed by some to be the basis for increased policing, the theory being based on the idea that Latinos are violent and out of control and are therefore “in need of suppression”. Based on research, the criminalization of a people can lead to abuses of power on behalf of law enforcement.
Research through random sampling in the South Tucson, Arizona area has established that immigration authorities sometimes target the residents of barrios with the use of possibly discriminatory policing based on racial profiling.
Author Mary Romero writes that immigration raids are often carried out at places of gathering and cultural expression such as grocery stores based on the fluency of language of a person (e.g. being bilingual especially in Spanish) and skin color of a person.
She goes on to state that immigration raids are often conducted with a disregard for due process, and that these raids lead people from these communities to distrust law enforcement.
The attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11 have led to targeting of Muslims in the United States as potential terrorists. Muslims and Middle Easterners are profiled as potential terrorists and, according to some, are targeted by the national government through preventive measures similar to those practiced by local law enforcement.
The national government has passed laws, such as the Patriot Act of 2001, to increase surveillance of potential threats to national threat as a result of the events that occurred during 9/11. It is argued that the passage of these laws and provisions by the national government leads to justification of preventative methods, such as racial profiling, that has been controversial for racial profiling and leads to further minority distrust in the national government.
One of the techniques used by the FBI to target Muslims was monitoring 100 mosques and business in Washington D.C. and threatened to deport Muslims who did not agree to serve as informers. The FBI denied to be taking part of blanket profiling and argued that they were trying to build trust within the Muslim community.
The events of 9/11 also led to restrictions on immigration laws. The government imposed stricter immigration quotas to maintain national security at their national borders. In 2002, men over sixteen years old who entered the country from twenty-five Middle Eastern countries and North Korea were required to be photographed, fingerprinted, interviewed and have their financial information copied, and had to register again before leaving the country.
When confronted with accusations of racial profiling the police don’t believe that they participate in it. They believe that they use numerous factors (such as race, interactions, and dress) to determine if a person is involved in criminal activity.
They conclude that the job of policing is far more imperative then to continuously worry about minorities or interest groups crying foul or complaining about being victims of unfair targeting.
Racial profiling not only occurs on the streets, it also occurs in many Institutions. Much like the book “Famous all over Town” where the author Danny Santiago mentions this type of Racism throughout the novel.
Racial Profiling is huge in Law Enforcement, where this type of behavior can risk the lives of innocent people. In a trusted source it says here “It is argued that, given the assumption that criminals are currently being punished too severely in Western countries, the apprehension of more criminals may not constitute a reason in favor of racial profiling at all.”
(Ryberg) It has been stated in a scholarly journal that for over 30 years the use of racial and/or demographic profiling by local authorities and higher level law enforcement’s continue to proceed.
NYPD Street cops use racial profiling more often, due to the widespread patterns. They first frisk them to check whether they have enough evidence to be even arrested for the relevant crime. “As a practical matter, the stops display a measurable racial disparity: black and Hispanic people generally represent more than 85 percent of those stopped by the police, though their combined populations make up a small share of the city’s racial composition.”(Baker)
(Sidebar) sorry, ..but since this is my blog, .. I can’t go any further without injecting some common sense. The reason that large cities and metropolitan area police officers stopped an interview young black and Latino men and women more often than they stopped an interview young white men and women, is because in metropolitan areas young black and Latino men and women congregate more often than young white men and women. ..duh!
Some general examples of racial profiling by police…
A few examples of racial profiling by police include:
An African American man standing on a corner waiting for a bus is stopped and questioned regarding why he is standing there and where he is going.
A Hispanic driver is stopped in a “white” neighbourhood because he “doesn’t belong there” or “looks out of place.”
A group of black teenagers are pulled over because of the kind of car they are driving.
Any person of color stopped for minor traffic violations and then questioned about where there are going, or if they have illegal drugs or weapons in their possession.
Racial profiling is also used as a basis of discrimination for employment, services, housing, etc., or to give preferential treatment to an individual or group of people because of their race or ethnicity.
Racial profiling in practice…
On September 14, 2001, an Indian American motorist and three family members were pulled over and ticketed by a Maryland state trooper because their car had broken taillights. The trooper interrogated the family, questioned them about their nationality, and asked for proof of citizenship. When the motorist said that their passports were at home, the officer allegedly stated, “You are lying. You are Arabs involved in terrorism.” He ordered them out of the car, had them put their hands on the hood, and searched the car. When he discovered a knife in a toolbox, the officer handcuffed the driver and later reported that the driver “wore and carried a butcher knife, a dangerous deadly weapon, concealed upon and about his person.” The driver was detained for several hours but eventually released.
Statistical data demonstrates, that although policing practices and policies vary widely across the United States, a large disparity between racial groups in regards to traffic stops and searches. However, whether this is disparity is due to racial profiling or the fact that different races are involved in crime in different rates, is still highly debated. Based on academic search, various studies have been conducted regarding the existence of racial profiling in traffic and pedestrian stops.For motor vehicle searches academic research showed that the probability of a successful search is very similar across races. This suggests that police officers are not motivated by racial preferences but by the desire to maximize the probability of a successful search.
Similar evidence has been found for pedestrian stops, with identical ratios of stops to arrests for different races.
Because of the controversial nature if this topic various studies yielded different results. The studies have been published in various Academic Journals aimed towards Academic professionals as well practitioners such as law enforcers. Some of these journals include, Police Quarterly and the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, so that both sides of the argument are present and evaluated.
Of those gathered the most noted study refuting racial profiling was the conducted using the veil of darkness hypothesis stating that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for officers to discern race in the twilight hours. The results of this study concluded that the ratio of different races stopped by New York cops is about the same for all races tested.
Some of the most referenced organizations, who offer evidence on the existence of racial profiling, noted are The American Civil Liberties Union, which has conducted studies various majorU.S.cities, and RAND.
In a study conducted in Cincinnati, Ohio it was concluded that “Blacks were between three and five times more likely to;
(a) be asked if they were carrying drugs or weapons,
(b) be asked to leave the vehicle,
(c) be searched,
(d) have a passenger searched, and
(e) have the vehicle physically searched.
In this study, the conclusion was based on the analysis of 313, randomly selected, traffic stop police tapes gathered from 2003 to 2004.
Perceptions of race and safety;
In a particular study, Higgins, Gabbidon, and Vito studied the relationship between public opinion on racial profiling in conjunction with their viewpoint of race relations and their perceived awareness of safety. It was found that race relations had a statistical correlation with the legitimacy of racial profiling. Specifically, results showed that those who believed that racial profiling was widespread and that racial tension would never be fixed were more likely to be opposed to racial profiling than those who did not believe racial profiling was as widespread or that racial tensions would be fixed eventually. On the other hand, in reference to perception of safety, the research concluded that one’s perception of safety had no influence on public opinion of racial profiling. Higgins, Gabbidon, and Vito acknowledge that this may not have been the case immediately after 9/11, but state that any support of racial profiling based on safety was “short-lived”.
The context of terrorism and crime…
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, according to Johnson, a new debate concerning the appropriateness of racial profiling in the context of terrorism took place. According to Johnson, prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks the debate on racial profiling within the public targeted primarily African-Americans and Latino Americans with enforced policing on crime and drugs. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon changed the focus of the racial profiling debate from street crime and “driving while Black” to terrorism and “flying while Arab.”
According to a June 4–5, 2002 FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll, 54% of Americans approved of using “racial profiling to screen Arab male airline passengers.”
A 2002 survey by Public Agenda tracked the attitudes toward the racial profiling of Blacks and people of Middle Eastern descent. In this survey, 52% of Americans said there was “no excuse” for law enforcement to look at African Americans with greater suspicion and scrutiny because they believe they are more likely to commit crimes, but only 21% said there was “no excuse” for extra scrutiny of Middle Eastern people.
However, using data from an internet survey based experiment performed in 2006 on a random sample of 574 adult university students, a study was conducted that examined public approval for the use of racial profiling to prevent crime and terrorism. It was found that approximately one third of students approved the use of racial profiling in general. Furthermore, it was found that students were equally likely to approve of the use of racial profiling to prevent crime as to prevent terrorism, -33% and 35.8% respectively.
The survey also asked respondents whether they would approve of racial profiling across different investigative contexts. It was found that 23.8% of people approved of law enforcement using racial profiling as a means to stop and question someone in a terrorism context while 29.9% of people approved of racial profiling in a crime context for the same situation. It was found that 25.3% of people approved of law enforcement using racial profiling as a means to search someone’s bags or packages in a terrorism context while 33.5% of people approved of racial profiling in a crime context for the same situation. It was also found that 16.3% of people approved of law enforcement wire tapping a person’s phone based upon racial profiling in the context of terrorism while 21.4% of people approved of racial profiling in a crime context for the same situation. It was also found that 14.6% of people approved of law enforcement searching someone’s home based upon racial profiling in a terrorism context while 18.2% of people approved of racial profiling in a crime context for the same situation.
The study also found that white students were more likely to approve of racial profiling to prevent terrorism than nonwhite students. However, it was found that white students and nonwhite students held the same views about racial profiling in the context of crime. It was also found that foreign born students were less likely to approve of racial profiling to prevent terrorism than non-foreign born students while both groups shared similar views on racial profiling in the context of crime.
Mexico has been criticized for its immigration policy. Chris Hawley of USA Today stated that “Mexico has a law that is no different from Arizona’s”, referring to legislation which gives local police forces the power to check documents of people suspected of being in the country illegally.
Immigration and human rights activists have also noted that Mexican authorities frequently engage in racial profiling, harassment, and shakedowns against migrants from Central America. (Source Wikipedia)
As a native of California and an individual that grew up in the heart of California’s San Fernando Valley, (circa 1955) ..I have a wealth of personal knowledge concerning conflicts between people with differing shades of skin pigment. My neighborhood wasn’t the all out battleground that many communities across America suffer today, ..nevertheless, it wasn’t the cast of “Happy Days” either.
Whether or not I was a typical teenager, ..is (fortunately, and or unfortunately) up for interpretation?
(True Story) Being a resident of Southern California in my earlier years I can chronicle more than a few accounts of personal border crossings into Mexico that involved being caught up in what we (at the time) “affectionately” ..referred to as a Mexican payday. Commonly known on Interstate 10 between Baton Rouge and Tallahassee, ..as a (speed trap). ..and/or, ..(local commerce). In Mexico, you simply turn down the wrong street at the wrong time. On I-10, ..it was a crap shoot all the way. Once you’re pulled over, ..your choice becomes a long day in the hot sun, ..or a minimum of two Andrew Jackson’s.
Illegal? Of course it was illegal, ..but then when has the (adjective) “illegal” ..ever (not) ..been up for interpretation?
Be good, I’ll be back tomorrow