The Negative Effect Of Racial Profiling On Black American

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American Novelist, James Baldwin was born in 1924 and raised in a predominantly black neighborhood in Harlem, New York. Shortly after James was born, the city was struck by the great depression that devastated the economy. Thousands of jobs were lost, many became homeless, and destitute, resulting in a significant increase in crime and violence. James and his family had a hard life during that period. They were confronted with various difficulties including destitution, rejection and racism. Nonetheless, he learned from those difficult experiences and became an active member member in the Civil Rights Movement. He later went on to add his voice to the national discussion on racial discrimination through his literary works by pushing for equality and acceptance of all individuals. James Baldwin became a household name within America and is best known as a prolific writer of short stories, poems and novels. One of his most prominent work entitled 'If Beale Street Could Talk', is the novel that will be discussed in this paper. Even though the novel is principally based on two themes: love and racism; this paper will concentrate on the theme of racism, specifically, the negative effects of racial profiling on Back Americans. This paper will demonstrate that racial profiling is an ineffective policing strategy that has significantly contributed to the mass incarceration of black men, mistrust between police and the Black Community, psychological distress and even death.

The story of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ is a true heart-breaking anecdote about a young couple (Tish and Fonny) who grew up together and later became lovers. Tish got pregnant at 19 years old and with the expectations of getting hitched to Fonny was hit with the sad news that Fonny was incarcerated on charges of rape. Mr. Bell, a supremacist Police officer who recently had a squabble with Fonny swears that he saw Fonny ' run from the scene of the crime '. (Baldwin,117). Fonny was racially profiled, erroneously blamed for offence and was imprisoned on these bogus charges. As both Tish's and Fonny's family raced against time to get Fonny out on bail, they were met with a whirlwind of troubles that presented a dubious future for Fonny. His incarceration created mixed emotions of sadness, grief, despair and anger.

Modern day black families in America continue to face similar challenges that Fonny’s family tackled in 20th century. Black men continue to be casualties of a justice system that is both impartial and predatory in nature. The justice system that was created to serve and protect the people has become the biggest threat to their lives. It is an equity framework that essentially gives privilege to one group of people and demonizes the other. The continuation of racial profiling within American institutions has largely contributed to the hatred, angry and frustration seen across the nation and has resulted in more African Americans being actively involved in protest against policies that are geared towards obliterating them.

What is Racial Profiling?

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission “Racial profiling is any action undertaken for reason of safety, security or public protection that relies on stereotypes about race, color, ethnicity, religion, or place of origin, or a combination of these, rather than on a reasonable suspicion, to single out an individual for greater scrutiny or different treatment.” Essentially, racial profiling is the utilization of race as a proxy for risk in the policing of criminality. This type of law enforcement tactic is mainly utilized in areas where there are a higher concentration of Blacks and Hispanics and of most recent times the Muslims since the 9/11 tragedy.

Scientific studies have not proven a link between racial profiling and the reduction of crime. In fact, a study by Durlauf concluded that the benefits from profiling in terms of crime reduction have not been identified (406). Similarly, American critical theorist with a specialization in punishment and surveillance, Bernard Harcourt, concludes that there is no empirical evidence that racial profiling is an effective policing strategy and there is no solid theoretical reason why it ought to be (74). People targeted by law enforcement authorities tend to distrust them and as a result, are unwilling to cooperate with police, thereby potentially limiting the efficiency of the reducing crime and violence. Racial profiling may also contribute to stigmatization and negative stereotyping of targeted groups, which results in fewer social and economic opportunities for members of those groups and may, in turn, lead to their embracing of illegitimate or criminal lifestyles (New York, Open Society Foundations, 2012).

Racial profiling represents a missed opportunity to apply more effective strategies. In the context of street policing, for example, research has highlighted strategies that have a real impact on crime, such as “hotspot policing”, whereby enforcement efforts are focused on very small geographical areas in which crime is concentrated; problem-oriented approaches to policing that rely on problem-solving methods; and focused deterrence approaches that use a variety of strategies to increase the deterrence of crime with regard to genuine, high-rate offenders. (Braga 2014).

It is understandable that law enforcement officials want to use the best enforcement tactic to reduce crime and violence, however, racially profiling specific individuals is a policing tactic that is not only ineffective, unethical and immoral, but it also violates basic human rights. According to the United Nations

“Racial Profiling violates several key principles and rights under the international human rights law. These include principles of equally and non- discrimination contained in article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and articles 1,2 and 5of the international Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. (p 3)”

The Extent of Racial Profiling in New York City

Under the leadership of Michael Bloomberg as Mayor of the City of New York, law enforcement officers were charged with the mandate of reducing crime. They were empowered to target criminals through the enforcement of ‘Stop, Question and Frisk’. “Stop, Question and Frisk” is an New York Police Department policy that empowered police officers to detain and question pedestrians, and potentially search them, if they have a 'reasonable suspicion' that the pedestrian in question 'committed, is committing, or is about to commit a felony or a Penal Law misdemeanor.'(Matthews)

“In 2006, the New York City Police Department stopped a half-million pedestrians for suspected criminal involvement. However, statistics for these encounters suggested large racial disparities; 89 percent of the stops involved nonwhites.” (Ridgeway, p7). This robust effort made to curb the city’s crime was counterproductive and was deemed racially charged. The policy was prejudice in nature and egregiously creates equated blackness to crime. A prime example of this is captured in the story when Fonny’s friend Daniel, was racially profile and accused of stealing a car. Because Daniel was black, he was a suspect by default and deemed guilty until proven innocent.

The Negative Effects of Racial Profiling

A. Mass Incarceration of Black Men

Racial profiling has caused a significant increase in the incarceration of black men who are usually the breadwinners for their families. According to Statistics from the (National Research council pg. 2) “more than half of the fathers in State Prison report being the primary breadwinner in their family”. Consequently, the spouses and offerings of these men suffer collateral damage.

The offspring of incarcerated men are less likely to do well in school and usually exhibit behavioral problems. Likewise, their spouses are more likely to experience financial hardship (Brown and Patterson).

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Mass incarceration of is one of the avenues through which the black population is being controlled in America today. This attack on black communities has transformed the life course of many of these men. For example, “among African American men born between 1965 and 1969, nearly 60% of those without a high school degree spent some time in prison by their early 30s compared to only 11% of white men without a high school degree.” (Turney,490). Many individuals within poor communities were easily preyed upon by law enforcement officers because they are unaware of their constitutional rights. Some police officers take advantage of that and falsely accuse and charge some black men for crimes they didn’t commit while others are serving hefty sentences for petit crimes such as: “vandalism, petit larceny, marijuana possession

and the possession of other drugs (McDonald, p.57). Fonny’s friend Daniel for example was sentenced to 2 years in prison for the possession of marijuana while others (mainly whites) are given a pass by police officers when they are found to be in possession of drugs like Opioids. If the American Criminal Justice System was serious about holding individuals accountable regardless of race, class or gender for the possession of illegal drugs, then the ongoing Opioid Crisis in States like West Virginia, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Florida and other States should have resulted in an increase in the incarceration of white men across America, since they are primarily race involved in this epidemic. However, there is not much data to show that increased. What we have seen in the last couple of years since the outbreak is the dire urgency to not treat the illicit use of Opioids as a criminal act but rather as a mental health issue. This inconsistency highlights the injustices within the Criminal Justice System and undoubtedly creates a level of mistrust between the police department and the Black Community.

B. Mistrust Between Police and the Black Community

Racial profiling has resulted in the erosion of public trust and confidence within various institutions such as: The Criminal Justice System, our Law Enforcement Departments, the Education System, and the Medical Institution. However, it is important to note that for these institutions to be effective they should be impartial and demonstrate fairness to all groups of people. According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, a Task Force on Race Relations and Policing headed by Clare Lewis confirmed in its 1989 report that “the worst enemy of effective policing is the absence of public confidence” (pg.27) . In order to change the negative public perception of these institutions and to restore public trust there must an effort to :

  • diversify its members; and
  • engage its members is anti-racism training.

Accordingly, a community that is 90% black should not have a police department that is 90% white. These institutions should reflect the community they served to restore public trust and confidence. In the excerpt below, Fonny’s dad Frank was expressed his distrust with the Criminal Justice System when he said: “you know I don’t want my boy’s life in the hands of these white, ball-less motherfuckers. I swear to Christ, I’d rather be boiled alive. That’s my only son, man, my only son. But we all in the hands of white men and I know some very hincty black cats I wouldn’t trust, neither” (Baldwin, 65).

It is fair to say that numerous black families in marginalized communities share the same kind of frustration as Frank did. Thousands of black men of varying age ranges walk around with fear and intimidation of be detained. Many of whom are law abiding citizen trying to live their lives. Whenever a black man encounters a law enforcement officer, majority of the times, they are treated with little to no respect. The police racially profiling a colored individual usually perceived him to be criminals and treats him accordingly. Numerous stop and search ends in fatality because of police brutality and rarely are these officers held accountable for their actions. This is one of the main reasons why there is little to no trust and or confidence in the effectiveness of the Justice System. Police brutality has taken a has taken a toll on the black community. For the past 20 years police brutality has taken the lives of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Alton Sterling which has sparked an increased in tension between police officers and the Black Americans.

With an increase in the public outcry and demands from the community against police brutality, several police department are trying to restore trust by engaging in community policing, increasing the diversity among their members and by providing body cameras to their officers to wear while they are on duty. While these are some good initiatives a lot more can be done. Policies that are geared towards fight crime should be free of racial bias, and one that is more precise to target criminals. Developing a symbiotic relationship will only benefits both parties and help to sooth tension that arise out of hatred and frustration and restore trust.

C. Psychological distress and death

“Psychological distress is the exposure to a stressful event that threatens the physical or mental health, the inability to cope effectively with this stressor and the emotional turmoil that results from this ineffective coping.” (Drapeau, pg. 105). DeHart’s quantitative analyses indicate that families of prisoners are most likely to experience stress-related physical health disorders of the heart, lungs, digestive, and endocrine systems prior to and during the incarceration of their loved one. (12). A Research conducted by the City University of New York found a “significant associations between police interactions and mental health outcomes which includes (psychotic experiences, depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicidal ideation and attempts), indicating a nearly twofold higher prevalence of poor mental health among those reporting a prior police interaction compared to those with no interaction.” This Research carried out by the City University of New York (Hunter College) reviewed 11 studies that prove that numerous encounters with Law Enforcement Officers add trauma to one’s life.

In the story, If Beal Street Could Talk, Fonny’s father, Frank committed suicide. His inability to finance his son’s freedom negatively affected his mental health. The great depression in the 1930 affected his ability to earn money. Consequently, the reality of being a dad who is unable to help his child finance his freedom significant influenced Frank’s decision to steal from his company. Frank getting caught for stealing from his company complicated things further and he did not see a way out this predicament. His son’s incarceration coupled with his financial difficulties and getting caught for stealing was too much frank to bear, and so he took his life.

Some persons have suffered traumatic experience with law enforcement officers and may need constant medical treatment throughout their life. Often times, these medical treatments are additional cost that many young black men and their families cannot afford. The inability to afford these medical treatments causes many persons to experience psychological distress. Studies have shown that families of prisoners are most likely to experience stress-related physical health disorders which can lead to suicide. Black parents are afraid. They are of their son being racially profiled and taken into custody for crime they didn’t commit. They are afraid of their sons being shot by supremist officers. They are afraid of their sons experiencing police brutality. This fear and constant worry that they sons may never come home negatively affects their mental health.

Psychological distress not only affects the victims of racial profiling and their families, it can also negatively affect person who have witnessed this gruesome policing tactic. Take for example the deaths of unarmed black men and boys like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice. This kicked start the national conversation about police violence — particularly, fatal police violence against people of color.


The act of racial profiling by law enforcement officers and agencies goes against universal lawful standards, including the principle of non-discrimination, the rights to equality before the law and equal protection of the law. Racial profiling does not effectively battle crime since innocent people are wrongly targeted, confined and cross examined, while the individuals who are guilty may slide under the radar because of an under-inclusivity of searches and requests. It has been demonstrated that racial profiling is an ineffective policing methodology and ought to be supplanted with more effective methodologies such as “hotspot policing.”

Racial profiling advances the stereotype that Black males are highly likely to be involved in crimes. This baseless pigeon-hole has caused the mass incarceration of black men, the development of mistrust between the police department and the Black community and psychological distress. Racial profiling has also resulted in the needless deaths of suspects selected not based on sound police practice but based on longstanding racial discrimination. From the foregoing it is evident that the adverse effects of racial profiling outweigh its alleged benefits and undermines American core values.

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The Negative Effect Of Racial Profiling On Black American. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
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