Clash of the Titans LXVIII: Racial Profiling

February 8, 2008, 12:00 pm; posted by
Filed under Debate, Erin, MC-B  | 5 Comments

In this corner, arguing against racial profiling, is Erin!

And in this corner, defending it, is MC-B!

I am driving and I pull into the tiny parking lot of a Sunoco gas station. There are only three or four spots, but I am seriously lost, and on top of that, I have to go to the bathroom. Badly. So I park my car, grab my purse, get out, and run inside.

Although there are several other people at the gas station, the first thing I notice is that I am the only Anglo, and the only woman, in the building. As I search for the likely dingy and dark bathroom, the only thought that stands out to me is: I hope I locked my car…

What just happened there? Because I was the ‘white’ woman in the situation, I assumed there was automatically a higher probability that the men around me would commit a crime? Yes. Exactly.

I didn’t even tell you what race any of the men were — but how many of you had a picture in your head? Lebanese? African-American? Ukrainian? In the past year, I have met people of all three backgrounds at gas stations, and never have I been robbed, never have I been assaulted, never has anything gone the least bit illegal.

So how is it even possible that racial profiling — the practice by law enforcement officers of taking into account racial or ethnic background when taking action — could seem right?

The ACLU defines racial profiling as the practice of investigating, stopping, frisking, searching, or using force against a person based on his or her race or ethnicity, and not criminal behavior. Pedestrian stops, “gang” databases, suspicion at stores and malls, and immigration worksite raids can be included in the definition as well.

So please tell me, what gives our law enforcement officers the right to do such a thing? To arrest someone based on the way that they look instead of their behavior? To detain, search, or harass someone because they can??

The answer is: nothing gives them the right. It is systemized racism, and should not be tolerated.

If racial profiling were called by almost any other name, or used almost any criteria other than race, I doubt many would be averse to it. Trying to prevent crimes or attacks on US citizens using statistics about which person is more likely to be a terrorist or criminal sounds pretty reasonable.

So what if race is one of the factors involved? Does a good idea suddenly become ludicrous? I’m going to talk mostly about international terrorism — it’s the situation in which racial profiling is most clearly justifiable (and therefore not wrong in every situation, or in principle).

There are some questions about the efficacy of racial profiling, but that’s not at issue here; the question is whether questioning or detaining someone comparatively more based on their race infringes that person’s right to privacy. Racial profiling, when done correctly, does not imply that anyone is guilty of a crime; rather, it is more comparable to what happens when the police are trying to track a felon.

If a white male of average build has brutalized someone while walking down the street, does it infringe on anyone’s constitutional rights if, in the course of finding the one who committed the crime, a few white males of average build are taken aside and questioned? We are at war with certain parts of the world whose inhabitants happen to look a certain way, and we need to react to that fact with smart policies designed to prevent attacks rather than kowtowing to PC sensibilities.

I would happily be detained for longer at an airport, even for hours, if it meant there was a slightly smaller chance that my plane would be taken over by hijackers or terrorists. This type of racial profiling may be a little insulting and quite inconvenient, but it would be difficult to find a credible constitutional lawyer who considered it a true infringement on constitutional rights.

Of course, engaging in racial profiling requires us to maintain rigorous standards and keep a watchful eye out for possible abuses of the system; it should never provide an excuse for racist actions. Additionally, racial profiling for strictly domestic crimes is a bit more complicated, and should be far more limited than racial profiling at airports or borders.

However, saying that all racial profiling is wrong regardless of the context sacrifices security, safety, and reality to political correctness — a very dangerous sacrifice to make.



5 Comments to “Clash of the Titans LXVIII: Racial Profiling”

  1. Steve on February 8th, 2008 11:44 am

    Erin, your reaction at the gas station was one of common sense, regardless of race. Men are far more likely to commit crimes than women, especially violent crimes.

    I’m glad you were not victimized, but as the old phrase goes, “The plural of anecdote is not ‘data.’ ” If you had been robbed, it wouldn’t have made every Ukranian a thief either.

    Certain things are true, whether or not we want them to be, even when they make us uncomfortable. Young men are more dangerous drivers, so I pay expensive insurance premiums. I think the key is, as MC-B identified, where to draw the line in using statistical profiling information, not whether we use it at all.

  2. Djere on February 9th, 2008 9:34 pm

    Let’s dissect Erin’s statement that racial profiling is bad in the cases of ““gang” databases, suspicion at stores and malls, and immigration worksite raids can be included in the definition as well.”

    Gang (youth gang): A youth gang is commonly thought of as a self-formed association of peers having the following characteristics: three or more members, generally ages 12-24; a gang name and some sense of identity, generally indicated by symbols such as clothing style, graffiti, and hand signs; some degree of permanence and organization; and an elevated level of involvement in delinquent and/or criminal activity. (

    Gangs typically go to great lengths creating a vast array of symbols to which their members can self-identify. So if my store is vandalized and the graffiti matches a local gang, I’m all for them being dragged in. If you see a pattern in the people who commit violent crimes, is that something you just ignore? Do not be misled, the bible says, bad company corrupts good character.

    I work at the second largest home improvement retailer in the world. You bet your sweet, sweet crap that if I see someone “acting suspiciously” near the combo kits, I’m going to respond appropriately, in a manner that conforms to federal, state, and local laws, as well as company policy.

    Erin, if you found a man acting suspiciously outside your front door, would you act like nothing was the matter?

    And on the subject of immigration raids, in America we have something called the ‘minimum wage.’ It’s the law that employers (that’s a person, people, or company with money) must pay each person at least that dollar figure per hour and that the salary is reported to the government. It’s a law that protects employees, helps fund our government, and keeps employers ethical. To whom can an illegal immigrant complain if he or she is being abused by an employer?

    Employers break the law when they hire them, illegals break the law by coming into the country illegally, not paying taxes, etc., and filthy, hippie liberals break the law when they protect them.

    P.S. Much like the terrorists who hate America generally come from a certain region of the world, illegal immigrants tend to come from a region of their own.

  3. Erin on February 10th, 2008 2:44 pm


    In response to your comment above:
    “…if I see someone “acting suspiciously” near the combo kits, I’m going to respond appropriately, in a manner that conforms to federal, state, and local laws, as well as company policy.”

    What I am calling into question is the definition of “responding appropriately.” I do not doubt that if you found gang insignia as a part of vandalism at your store, that the gang would be the first place you’d look for culprits – that seems logical.
    But when city authorities lump all youth ages 12-24 into a ‘gang’ category, and they become the “usual suspects” simply because of their race/vicinity and not real suspicion, then you have racial profiling, and that is wrong.

    As to the issue of immigrant worksite raids: illegal immigrants, I would bet, are not glad when La Migra come in and raid their worksite because they ‘want the minimum wage.’ Worksite raids, I agree, have to do with controlling the flow of illegal immigrants, but when raids are conducted to simply create fear or demonstrate the viciousness of the INS, I have problems condoning their brutality. On 32 of California’s 32,000 immigrant-employing farms (illegal and legal) were inspected between the years of 1989-1991*, and this makes me wonder: is the INS truly worried about protecting Americans who are trying to earn the minimum wage, or do they simply care about creating a presence, and letting the majority of illegal immigrants exist here? This branches off to issues besides just racial profiling, however, so I’ll leave it alone for the time being.


    p.s. “filthy, hippie liberals” ? Why, how quaint.

    *See Peter Stalker’s 2000-published book “Workers without Frontiers: The Impact of Globalization on International Migration. ” p. 44

  4. Steve on February 11th, 2008 9:17 am

    How (and I ask this seriously) are immigration raids brutal? Is excessive force used? In keeping with my opposition to illegal immigration, I would like to see more and more of them, with far greater punishment meted out to the businesses doing the employment than the individuals who simply want to live and work here, but don’t have the patience to do so legally.

  5. David on February 11th, 2008 5:54 pm

    My whole point with illegal aliens is not that we should loosen restrictions at the border (as the clash ended up being about) or not pursue legal action against them but that we should treat the ones who are here with compassion. Help them become citizens and get health care and other protections. If one—or all of them—fit the profile of a particular crime then by all means we should have the right to investigate, detain and interview anyone who fits the profile. Arrest them?Not without just cause. Enforce the immigration laws and send everyone of them packing? Something tells me that if we had the resources and committment to do that then we wouldn’t still be talking about it.

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