Throughout this course, we’ve learned extensively about the issues that have historically plagued this country, and how these issues disproportionately affect communities of color. In addition, we’ve discussed many issues pertaining to the mistreatment of people of color, including the war on drugs, police brutality, and the prison industrial complex. America is a country that unfortunately isn’t too far removed from its roots. With a history of slavery, genocide, and institutionalized racism, it’s easy to think that we’ve progressed a great deal since this nation’s origin. America disguises it’s wrongdoings behind the guise of patriotism, protecting our borders, and removing criminals from the streets. The corruptness within this country is embedded within the politicians, judges, and government officials, whose power often goes unchecked.
These ideas of injustice are explored in ‘The Dilemma of Racial Profiling’ by Micol Seigel. Through Seigel, she discusses the relevant history of violent policing and racial profiling within the United States’ legal system. Seigel also highlights how concepts of British Colonialism and post-slavery policing have shown to be incorporated into our nation’s contemporary model of policing. Overall, Seigel’s realizes there is a huge misconception surrounding racial profiling; that since it highlights the overt racism in the police force and crook justice device, it ought to serve as a win for activists all around. However, Seigel’s argument explains the relationship between divisive issues inside the United States—that the notion of racial profiling is a Trojan horse; by recognizing the root of these problems, we can potentially make strides closer to solving the bigger problem at hand. This paper is meant to analyze racial profiling in all its seriousness—since it has proven to result in disproportionate arrests, unfair treatment at the hands of law enforcement officials, and in a few extreme instances—death.
Racial disparities in our criminal justice system are stemmed from a history of racial prejudice and injustices. Slavery in America was justified by the notion of a racial hierarchy, that black people were inferior to white people, and in turn, benefited from slave ownership that dominated most of the southern states. The villainization that has been assigned to people of color since America’s historical lynchings and prior has presently affected minority communities in terms of law enforcement—more specifically, police brutality. Assessing the criminalization of black and brown individuals and how they’re more likely to carry the presumption of guilt has been the main philosophy behind the Black Lives Matter movement, along with many others. The idea of “shoot first, ask questions later”, has been demonstrated by law enforcement for decades, and studies show that police officers are more likely to carry out stop and frisk searches or detain men of color based solely on their intuition, and judgment, or lack thereof for that matter.
Seigel begins her analysis of this topic by discussing cases in New Jersey that exemplify instances of racial profiling at the hands of the police. In 1995m New Jersey state troopers were proven to be fulfilling racist practices throughout state police checkpoints. These officers were found to have been unfairly stopping Black and Hispanic drivers, at a higher rate than their white counterparts. Eventually, a judge ruled that the police officers were stopping drivers solely based on the assumption of guilt; as a result, all incriminating proof accumulated in the course of those habitual stops had to be dismissed. After this event, eradicating racial profiling became sponsored by way of presidential parties, and the general public opinion started out to shift. Seigel writes, “press insurance marked the passage of the term into the public sphere, where it becomes printed without rationalization as though obvious and familiar to all. The public question shifted from whether racial profiling befell or no longer to whether it was justified and how to end it” (475).
Another instance occurred when police shot an unarmed Guanian immigrant over 40 times on his building doorstep. Siegel writes “one month later and unconnected, or as a substitute best indirectly connected to Diallo’s murder, New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman conceded that her troopers singled out Black and Hispanic drivers” (775). With both of these incidents in mind, it begins to demonstrate a clear pattern of police abusing their power. Not only did this bring about loss of life for someone like Amadou Diallo, but the lack of repercussions and consequences for these police officers sets a precedent that overlooks their actions, and enables them to keep killing unprovoked.
To add on, Siegel’s biggest critique of racial profiling is the term itself suggests that there’s room for improvement and that racism may be all-around eliminated from policing itself, by way diversity and inclusion training; many believe that racism within these practices may be eliminated with a variety of training or education—whilst that is surely not the case. Seigel opposes this and rather suggests racial profiling is something so ingrained into everyday policing, that rather than us assuming a variety of training will repair it; we must understand the systems within our government that uphold these practices of unequal treatment and injustice under the law.
Furthermore, the fourteenth amendment is the amendment that promises equal protection under the law, and states that all individuals are “innocent until proven guilty”. However, for most communities of color, they are not awarded the presumption of innocence that white Americans are. Equal Justice Initiative points out the correlation between law enforcement and the justice system, “Implicit biases have been shown to affect policing—marking young men of color for frequent stops, searches, and violence…leading to higher rates of childhood suspension, expulsion, and arrest at school; a greater likelihood of being denied bail and diversion; an increased risk of wrongful convictions and unfair sentences”(1). People of color should be offered and promised the same amount of protection and certainty underneath the law. The same law that promises the opportunity to thrive and achieve the “American Dream” as everyone else is. Racial profiling isn’t about playing the victim, it’s about society being unable to view people of color as victims of the systems themselves.
In conclusion, with our system built upon principles of racism, and discrimination, as Siegel suggests, it’s essential that we unveil the historical precedents that enable these practices today. Mass incarceration, unfair treatment by police, and a system that awards officers, rather than punishes them, are all results of an unjust system, characterizing the American experience for people of color. Racial disparities have plagued this country since its founding, and the legal system specifically has a history of disproportionately viewing communities of color as an afterthought, or unequal. Minorities should be promised the same opportunities as everyone else, but that cannot occur until we look deeply at our history and how to change the past that continues to haunt us.
- Seigel, Micol. “The Dilemma of ‘Racial Profiling’: an Abolitionist Police History.” Taylor & Francis, www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10282580.2017.1383773.
- “Presumption of Guilt.” Equal Justice Initiative, 13 May 2019, eji.org/.