Counterpoint: the case against profiling
Racial profiling can be defined as stopping and searching people passing through public areas solely because of their color, race, or ethnicity. Upon close examination of history, current events, the U.S. Constitution, case law, and both the policy itself and its social implications, one finds that racial profiling in any environment, including airports, is an unproductive and immoral policy to ensure safety.
Much like today, the World War II era was filled with fear and uncertainty, leading the U.S. government to incarcerate Japanese-Americans. Within three months of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which:
authorized the removal of all persons of Japanese descent from the
west coast. Men, women and children of Japanese ancestry were
falsely portrayed as a threat to national security and put into
concentration camps without trial or individual review even though
two thirds of them were U.S. citizens. (1)
In 1980, Congress established the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians to investigate the internment of Japanese-Americans. The commission determined that a letter of apology and $20,000 payment was owed to the victims of the government’s incorrect behavior. The Japanese-American community felt vindicated–their humiliation had finally been officially acknowledged as the government accepted responsibility. (2) The investigation and outcome showed that, in times of war, racial groups are often separated and mistreated out of fear, and that those who have mistreated them live to regret a hasty decision.
Since the 1980s, the practice of profiling has been applied to America’s war on drugs. Specifically, law-enforcement officers have detained members of minority groups in vehicles more often than whites. In conducting such stops, these officers assume that minorities commit more drug offenses, which is not the case. “In all of the published studies to date,” Northeastern University law professor Deborah Ramirez points out, “minorities are no more likely to be in possession of contraband than whites. Moreover, in many of these studies, minorities, especially Latinos, are less likely to be carrying contraband.” (3) Thus, race has not proven to be a valuable or reliable resource in profiling criminals. The well-documented profiling of black people for drug offenses does nothing other than fill jail cells with black dealers and addicts while their white counterparts continue to engage in their illicit business. (4)
Targeting behavior rather than appearance has proven to be more successful. As Ramirez reports:
Customs revamped its stop and search procedures to remove race from
the factors considered when stop decisions were made. Instead,
Customs agents selected suspects for stops and searches using
observational techniques and focusing on specific behaviors….
Customs conducted seventy percent fewer searches and their hit rates
improved from approximately five percent to over fifteen
If racial profiling has proven time and again not to be beneficial, it seems logical to stop using a practice that alienates an entire group of people based on their race, a factor that cannot be changed.
Today Americans are faced with a conflict between the needs of national security and the desire for freedom and personal liberty. We are no longer on a battlefield where the enemy is clearly recognizable. Instead, we live at a time when citizens are frightened by information that everything from apartment buildings and malls to major bridges have become military targets. This constant fear has left Americans looking for some way to identify the enemy clearly. As a consequence, the historically discredited practice of racial profiling has again been instituted in airports.
The principles on which the United States has been built include the accepted wisdoms of freedom. The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution promotes two fundamental ideals to protect against racial profiling: equality and due process. The amendment states, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. To single out a group of people by race violates equal protection: The law cannot protect a group of people that is being singled out for investigation. Furthermore, profiling leaves “[a] feeling of resentment among minorities, [a] sense of hurt, and [an] increasing loss of trust in the police.” (7)
While few court cases have dealt with profiling, racial profiling is constitutionally unacceptable. Much of the justification for racial profiling is based on the notion of national security. However, in New York Times v. United States (1971), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that national security cannot be placed above First Amendment rights that guarantee freedom of the press. In writing the majority opinion, Associate Justice Hugo Black declared: “The word ‘security’ is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendmen.” (8) Accordingly, national security, because it is not clearly defined, can not be placed above any of the fundamental rights provided for under the U.S. Constitution. In short, national security is not an acceptable excuse to deny rights by profiling. While the United States government has a duty to protect its citizens from physical harm, it also has a larger duty to protect the ideals upon which the nation was founded and the undeniable rights of its citizenry. Physical harm may come and go over time, but the rights of the people must be protected to the fullest extent at all times if such rights are to remain permanent.
One of the most important factors to consider in arguing against racial profiling is the policy itself and the various societal impacts associated with it. It is impossible to measure the cost of alienating an entire race of people from society, and in no way can protecting the nation be used as an excuse for doing so. No benefits have been derived by targeting one race thus making the cost of such a policy unbearable. In fact, many terrorists have not been Arab, as in the case of the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, or Richard Reid, the airline passenger who hid explosives in his shoes. While racism may exist in society, it is the duty of the government not to promote it. Yet, profiling in airports does just that! Targeting people returning from Arab countries is one thing, but targeting Arabs in general is quite another. If the doors for profiling are opened, the stage is set for future legislation that could create a police state. It is impossible to know the extent to which profiling can affect the future, but no good result can come from it.
The Western world has often been seen as racist and unfair to minorities. Racial profiling confirms these charges. As Sunera Thobani, an anti-racist scholar, points out:
While such profiling is being lauded as ‘a valuable tool of law
enforcement,’ it brings to the fore the historically problematic
relationship of color to Western Democracy. Racial profiling
reveals, once again, the fundamental character of liberal democracy
as a racialized project. (9)
It is the responsibility of democracy and freedom to refute these accusations. Racial profiling is a system that has not worked and cannot work. It impacts more than how people feel; it compromises their rights. More troublesome, it can fuel genocide and other horrendous crimes that civilized, democratic nations deem repugnant and should never tolerate.
(1) Donna K. Nagata and Wendy J.Y. Cheng, “Intergenerational Communication of Race-Related Trauma by Japanese-American Former Internees,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 73 (July 2003):266. For details on the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the push for an apology and reparations, see Peter H. Irons, Justice at War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983); Peter H. Irons, Justice Delayed: The Record of Japanese-American Internment (Middleton CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1989).
(2) Michael M. Honda, “Japan’s War Crimes: Has Justice Been Served?” East Asia: An International Quarterly 18 (Fall 2000):29.
(3) Deborah A. Ramirez, Jennifer Hoopes, and Tara Lai Quinlan, “Defining Racial Profiling in a Post-September 11 World,” The American Criminal Law Review 40 (Summer 2003): 1195.
(4) Samuel R. Gross, “Crime, Politics, and Race,” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 21 (Winter 1997):416.
(5) Quoted in Ramirez, Hoopes, and Quinlan, “Defining Racial Profiling in a Post-September 11 World,” 1195.
(6) U.S. Constitution, amend. 14, sec. 1.
(7) Randall Kennedy, quoted in Marthias Risse and Richard Zeckauser, “Racial Profiling,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 32 (Spring 2004):144.
(8) David M. O’Brien, Constitutional Law and Politics. Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, 5th ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2002), II:571.
(9) Sunera Thobani, “Exception as a Rule: Profile of Exclusion Signs 29 (Winter 2004):597.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Pi Gamma Mu
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group