Is it okay to racially profile people?

I really think that there should be another term to describe targeting people because of how they look. Skin colour is only one clue as to whether or not a person looks out of place or suspicious. For example, in a poor neighbourhood, a man dressed in very expensive clothes with an expensive phone and expensive shoes and driving an expensive car would look out of place. If he was loitering in a place that is a known area where addicts go to buy drugs then a cop might assume that he is up to no good and may be a drug dealer.

If a man is wearing Gang colours, of course, he will be viewed differently to his twin brother who is not.

Racial profiling is a phrase often used in law enforcement or the court system to refer to the use of a person’s ethnicity or race to decide on whether to engage in some type of legal proceeding. The act itself is very controversial and considered by many as illegal and inappropriate.

Racial Profiling Debate

There are several definitions of racial profiling, including those established by different offices like the Office of the Arizona Attorney General. This office defines it as “Use by law enforcement personnel of an individual’s race or ethnicity as a factor in articulating reasonable suspicion to stop, question or arrest an individual, unless race or ethnicity is part of an identifying description of a specific suspect for a specific crime.” Most definitions are similar in that they identify that some type of police action is being taken that relies on the national origin or race or ethnicity of a person rather than the actual behavior of the person in some manner of criminal activity.

Racial profiling is also referred to as racially-biased policing and can be broken up into a narrow definition and a broad definition. The narrow definition is the most commonly used definition with regards to a police officer stopping, questioning, arresting or searching someone based on his or her ethnicity or race. The more broad definition looks at racial profiling as occurring whenever police use race or ethnicity as a factor when reacting with suspicion and action against an individual.

Critics of racial profiling look to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution to challenge the practice. This amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause. The Fourteenth Amendment is also used in legal cases to support the right of citizens to be treated equally under the laws of the United States.

In 2001, former President George W. Bush addressed a Joint Session of Congress and declared that racial profiling was wrong and that America was going to end it. He went on to comment that the nation’s police officers need the support of the American people, and due to the abuses of a few, they were hindered in doing their jobs properly. Rather than being racially profiled, law enforcement was being pigeon holed, although it could be said they were experiencing a similar situation to that of those individuals who were racially profiled. A year later, Attorney General John Ashcroft shared President Bush’s sentiment and stated that using race as an indicator of potential criminal behavior was unconstitutional and undermined the criminal justice system. A former policy regarding racial profiling was issued by the Department of Justice in June of 2003 that forbade the practice by federal law enforcement officials.

Police Profiling Debate

The racial profiling debate, however, seems to center on whether or not the practice is really all that bad. Some in the realm of law enforcement argue that the practice is necessary and effective. They believe that due to demographic and socio-economic factors and their relation to crime, those in a large minority population have a higher risk of participating in criminal activities. They argue that ignoring the facts due to moral integrity is professionally and morally wrong. If law enforcement officers are to identify and take action against violators, any information to assist them in being more effective is crucial. Critics of racial profiling argue that individual rights are violated when this practice is utilized. Civil liberties organizations intimate that this type of profiling is in fact a form of discrimination and undermines basic human rights and freedoms. Researchers are interested in collecting data and analyzing trends to see how this information corresponds to perceptions of racial profiling and the effects it has on ethnic groups.