“When I got stopped the other day, I wasn’t a cop. I wasn’t a guy who lived in a neighborhood looking for his daughter’s toy. I was a black man, a dangerous black man. That’s all he could see: a threat” (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Terry Jeffords). Racial profiling is a serious problem that targets minorities. The tactic is used by police, and it simply judges a person based on their skin color and not evidence. Racial profiling compromises the very fabric that America is weaved on. With Constitutional laws that protect us as rightful American citizens from any mistreatment of discrimination, racial profiling is still being practiced. While many say racial profiling is an effective police tactic, evidence proves that it feeds into racism, violates the Constitution, demonizes the public, and results in more problems than it solves.
The term “racial profiling” originates from the term “criminal profiling”. Criminal profiling is the identification of a crime suspect based on the criminal’s description provide by a witness. Racial profiling is defined, as stated by the American Civil Liberties Union, as “the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin.” Racial profiling and criminal profiling are opposites. Racial profiling takes place before a crime is known to be committed or when there is an absence of evidence. “Essentially, criminal profiling asks the question, ‘Who is most likely to have carried out this specific crime?’ while racial profiling tends to ask, ‘Who might commit a crime at some point in the future?’’ (Behnke 8). It connects a person’s ethnic and racial background with the likelihood of them committing a crime. The Amnesty International USA believes that profiling can only be appropriate if “there is trustworthy information, relevant to the locality and timeframe, that links persons belonging to an identified criminal incident or scheme” (Behnke 6). However, today’s racial profiling tactic does not align with these demands. It is merely based off of race, ethnicity, and religion.
Racial profiling directly stems from centuries of severe racism, along with deeply rooted current day viewpoints, continuous discrimination, racial stereotypes, and privilege. It places communities and individuals under a spotlight because of stereotypes. “Common stereotypes in the United States are based on a deeply rooted, historical philosophy of racial superiority and include the perceptions that people of color are less honest, less hardworking, and less intelligent than white people. Black people, particularly black males, are often stereotyped as irrational, violent, hypersexualized, and prone to criminal behavior. Latino Americans often encounter assumptions that they are in the nation illegally to work menial jobs or to profit from ties to drug trafficking. Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent are frequently stereotyped as religious extremists or terrorists” (Behnke 10). The police enforced tactic directly feeds into racism because it targets minority-based communities or individuals as potential threats. Statistics show just how much religion, ethnicity, and racial discrimination are the sole factors police judge by.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. 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; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The fourteenth amendment meant to assure people of color that they would receive the same protection under the law as whites. Thus, a law that discriminates against people of color is illegal and unjust. The Fourth Amendment in the Constitution states, “ The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” In many cases, police officers have abused their authority and illegally conducted a search without reason and in most cases without even stating any reason to the victim. Before they conduct a search, the officer must state the reason of suspicion and the reason for the search. If the police do not have a plausible or legitimate suspicion of a person, they cannot conduct a search. They become in violation of the fourth and fourteenth amendment.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a nonprofit organization meant to fight for the rights and liberties given by the laws and Constitution, observed a study on the usage of stop-and-frisk, the policing practice of stopping a person to search for weapons or prohibited items as stated by Lexico by Oxford. Between the years of 2010 and 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, it found that in half of their 700,000 police stops, the police did not explain the reason for suspicion as is required by the Constitution of the United States. African Americans were found to be six times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched and less than 1 percent of those searches turned up with contraband. Black and Latino drivers are 20 percent less likely to possess contraband but more likely to be searched (Balko). Racial profiling commonly occurs to many people of all minority groups. Citizens become victims while driving, walking, traveling through airports, shopping, and in the comfort of their own home.
Ever since the horrific event that occurred on September 11th, there has been a substantial increase of racial profiling in airports particularly against those of whom appear to be of Middle Eastern descent. The cases of Sandra and Omar Rana starts off at the Tulsa, Oklahoma airport. Dr. Sandra Rana and her family were at the airport like every other citizen on that day. However, the day turned grim when Omar, her 8-year-old son, was pulled from the line and airport officials dismantled his Boy Scout pinewood derby car. Omar is now targeted at all airports. His mother, Dr. Rana said, “Imagine how I felt when my eight-year-old son was pulled from the line because of his name and I could not go with him. Imagine how he felt when they started to take apart his Boy Scout pinewood derby car in the Boy Scout box. . .. It is now routine for my son, for Omar Rana, to get extra security checks at the airport. He knows it’s going to happen, and he expects it…. But how do I tell my . . . son that it’s okay? He is now ten. He is learning about civil liberties and civil rights. What meaning do they have for him…?” Because of this incident, Dr. Rana no longer wears her hijab, the religious traditional head covering for women in the Muslim culture. She goes on to say, “It’s not just the scarf. I tell my kids, don’t speak Urdu. It’s the Pakistani language. Don’t speak it when you’re on the plane. Don’t take the Quran. We’ve been advised by officials, do not carry any book that’s in Arabic. . .. Don’t do anything that will cause attention to yourself” (Threat and Humiliation Racial Profiling, Domestic Security, and Human Rights in the United States 8). Many more incidents like this occurs every day all over the United States.
The case of Sharon Simmons-Thomas is of an African American newspaper reporter in Harlem, New York. Just months prior Mr. Boyd, the attorney of this case, reported of several stories told by Latinos and African Americans of their discriminatory experience in shopping centers. These citizens, while entering stores, were followed by security guards, falsely arrested, subjected to abuse an embarrassment, and even banned from stores. Mr. Boyd tells Ms. Simmons story, “Last December… [Ms.] Simmons stopped in . . . [a major department store] to do a little quick shopping. When leaving the store, she was apprehended by two security guards. “They wouldn’t say who they were, but they accused me of shoplifting,” she said. The guards refused to look at the receipts Simons had waved in their face. She was handcuffed, paraded in front of other customers, and then escorted to the store’s detention cells, which are just atrocious. “I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life,” she continued. In the detention cells were several other customers being held as suspect shoplifters, all of them people of color. “They ran a background check on me and discovered I didn’t have a criminal record,” she said. Three hours later, after being humiliated by a body search, threatened with physical force and attempts to coerce a false confession, she was freed but without her [purchases].” (Threat and Humiliation Racial Profiling, Domestic Security, and Human Rights in the United States 9)
Human dignity one of the most fundamental needs of a person. Ontario Human Rights Commission, OHRC, declares that “human dignity means being treated with respect and having a sense of self-worth.” Racial profiling damages a person psychologically an emotionally. It makes a person feel less than human and as if they are not respected as a human being. The American Civil Liberties Union writes that police dehumanize citizens by “humiliating and often frightening” them and placing them in “detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity” (Behnke 9). The OHRC also said, –“For example, a strong justice system requires citizens to have confidence in the fairness of the process; community policing relies on individuals trusting the police and being willing to work with them; and, teachers can only function effectively when they have the respect of their students…However, racial profiling seriously erodes public confidence in these institutions. Numerous submissions described an increased personal or community mistrust of law enforcement officials, the criminal justice system, the education system, customs officials, store and mall security and society in general. One person who was himself a victim of a crime even described feeling “betrayed” by the police.” If the citizens can neither trust the police or the justice system, then there is no benefit and/or overall gain to the practice of racial profiling. If the people cannot trust those meant to protect them, we are separating our society. “Mistrust in the police can decrease citizens will to cooperate and report crimes, implying a risk of inefficiency in police’s ability to fight crime and uphold law and order. Mistrust in the police can also be related to non-transparency, corruption, lack of democratic legitimacy in the police and state authorities in general” (Egharevba 14-16). Because of minorities’ unfair experiences and involuntary contact with the police, they are more unlikely to report crimes in fear of what could happen as is seen in social media and the news. Because citizens loose trust in the authority, many live-in fears which creates a hostile atmosphere. The OHRC released quotes from citizens which read, ‘I do not go to the police when I have a problem. I will not do so in the future, either. However, if there is a problem that absolutely requires police assistance and I can request help on the phone anonymously, so they can’t see that I’m Black, then I will.” Another person said, ‘Profiling does nothing but create distrust and resentment when it is done. This in turn causes a negative backlash in the community. This is part of the reason that the police force gets very little cooperation when dealing with the Black community. If a person does not feel valued by the system, you will in turn see how that person can become a negative force.” An African American said, ‘People are afraid to talk to the police in the Black community… There are good cops, but the bad ones make us mistrustful of all police. It makes it hard for them to solve crime.”
There are far too many stories of police racial profiling that escalates to police brutality, a civil rights violation that occurs when a police officer acts with excessive force by using an amount of force with regards to a civilian that is more than necessary as defined by US Legal. “Consider the testimony of Ms. Nina Paulino of the Santiago Villanueva Justice Committee at the hearings in New York City. Ms. Paulino told us the story of her friend Santiago Villanueva. Mr. Villanueva was from the Dominican Republic, did not speak English, and had dreadlocks; he also had epilepsy. He was in Bloomfield, New Jersey when he experienced an epileptic seizure. When police arrived on the scene, they saw an African American man with dreads seizing on the ground and assumed he was on drugs. Officers harassed Mr. Villanueva and insisted that he speak English. They threw him on the ground and one officer put his knee on Mr. Villanueva’s neck while another placed a knee on his back. Mr. Villanueva stopped breathing and was given oxygen. He reportedly gained consciousness for a short while and was handcuffed in the ambulance the entire way to the hospital where he died. Ms. Paulino says, ‘The police came and saw him and automatically said this man is on drugs, although they had over ten witnesses saying no, he’s epileptic, he’s having a seizure … One of them put a knee on his neck, another on his back, handcuffed him, and took the last breath out of his lungs.” (Threat and Humiliation Racial Profiling, Domestic Security, and Human Rights in the United States 7). There are many other heart-breaking stories such as, “Robert Davis, a retired elementary school teacher from New Orleans, was arrested and brutally beaten by police on suspicion of public intoxication. On the night of Oct. 9, 2005, just a little over a month after Hurricane Katrina, Davis returned to New Orleans to check on his family’s property and went to the French Quarter to buy cigarettes. There, he was attacked by four police officers who said he was belligerent and resisted arrest by not allowing them to handcuff him. The beatings were videotaped by an Associated Press producer, who was also assaulted that night. The officers were either fired or suspended for their involvement, but many of the charges against them were cleared.” A man named Frank Jude was also a victim of police brutality. “In 2004, 26-year-old Frank Jude was viciously beaten by several off-duty Milwaukee police officers as he was leaving a party. The group of men attacked Jude and his friend, Lovell Harris, claiming they stole one of the officer’s wallets that contained a police badge. Harris’ face was cut with a knife, but he was able to get free and run away. Jude was repeatedly punched and kicked, as well as stabbed in the ears with a pen. Even the on-duty officer who was called to stop the fight began stomping on Jude’s head. In the state trial, the jury acquitted the three officers charged. There was a great deal of community outrage and demand for a federal investigation. The federal grand jury convicted the three officers who were originally acquitted but did acquit the fourth officer.” People do not trust the police to protect them because of the record of brutality on the internet and news.
Many may counterargue that racial profiling is a beneficial police tactic used to prevent crime. Although it does allow the police to identify a likely group of suspects, it still does not outweigh all of the dangerous harm caused. “And if the net results are not a constant parade of big-time seizures of contraband but mostly “dry holes” and tiny amounts, there’s no real payoff…Even if we were to overlook racial profiling’s moral, legal, and social flaws, it simply does not work as a law enforcement tactic…policing with racial profiles cannot be said to be a rational response to crime. It is instead a misdirected attack on a difficult set of problems that causes its own damage to innocent individuals, to policing, to society, and to the law itself.”
The statistics of racial profiling do not support the continuation of such a system.
In conclusion, racial profiling is a controversial practice that has many more weaknesses than strengths. Evidence has proven that it dangerously feeds into racism, violates the Constitution, demonizes the public, and causes many more problems than it solves. There is no excuse for the damaged communities and families that have resulted. There is no excuse for a woman to be shot and killed in her own home because of the color of her skin. There is no excuse for a man to be held at gun point because of his race. There is no excuse for an 8-year-old boy being shot and killed for standing in his own yard because he was posed as a threat. There has to be a change.
- “The Effects of Racial Profiling.” Ontario Human Rights Commission, www.ohrc.on.ca/en/paying-price-human-cost-racial-profiling/effects-racial-profiling. Accessed Jan 2020.
- Behnke, Alison Marie. Racial Profiling Everyday Inequality. Twenty-First Century Books, 2017.
- Harris, David A. Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work. New Press, 2003.
- Egharevba, Stephen. Police Brutality, Racial Profiling, and Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System. IGI Global, Information Science Reference, 2017.
- Balko, Radley. “Opinion/There’s Overwhelming Evidence That the Criminal Justice System Is Racist. Here’s the Proof. “The Washington Post, WP Company, 10 Apr. 2019, www. Washingtonpost.com/news/opinions/wp/2018/09/18/theres-overwhelming-evidence-that-the-criminal-justice-system-is-racist-here’s-the-proof. Accessed Jan 2020.
- Threat and Humiliation: Racial Profiling, Domestic Security, and Human Rights in the United States. Amnesty International USA, 2004.
- Writers, Staff. “10 Worst Cases of Police Brutality in History – Criminal Justice Degrees Guide.” CriminalJusticeDegreesGuide.com, CriminalJusticeDegreesGuide.com, 1 July 2019, www.criminaljusticedegreesguide.com/features/10-worst-cases-of-police-brutality-in-history.html. Accessed Feb. 2020.
- “Stop-And-Frisk: Definition of Stop-And-Frisk by Lexico.” Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries, www.lexico.com/en/definition/stop-and-frisk. Accessed 24 February 2020.
- US Legal, Inc. “Police Brutality Law and Legal Definition.” Police Brutality Law and Legal Definition | USLegal, Inc., definitions.uslegal.com/p/police-brutality/.