Racial Profiling Racial profiling is the tactic of stopping someone because of the color of his or her skin and a fleeting suspicion that the person is engaging in criminal behavior (Meeks, p. 4-5). This practice can be conducted with routine traffic stops, or can be completely random based on the car that is driven, the number of people in the car and the race of the driver and passengers. The practice of racial profiling may seem more prevalent in today’s society, but in reality has been a part of American culture since the days of slavery. According to Tracey Maclin, a professor at the Boston University School of Law, racial profiling is an old concept. The historical roots “can be traced to a time in early American society when court officials permitted constables and ordinary citizens the right to ‘take up’ all black persons seen ‘gadding abroad’ without their master’s permission” (Meeks, p. 5).
Although slavery is long since gone, the frequency in which racial profiling takes place remains the same. However, because of our advanced electronic media, this issue has been brought to the American public’s attention. Some consider racial profiling a viable tool to reduce crime. The New Century Foundation, a non-profit organization based in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Oakton, VA, published a report on the American Renaissance website, stating that African-Americans commit 90% of the approximately 1,700,000 interracial crimes of violence that occurs every year in the United States. They are more than fifty times more likely to commit violent crimes against whites than vice versa.
According to this same report, African-Americans are much more likely to commit violent crimes than whites and when they commit these crimes, target whites slightly more than half the time. The foundation believes that these crime statistics warrant racial profiling as a crime deterrent and believe that it may even reduce crime. A recent article published on the website, Jewish World Review, states that racial profiling is frequently used, not only in law enforcement, but also in everyday existence. The author, Walter Williams, states that, “we face a world of costly and incomplete education, and that means we have to do a lot of guessing and playing hunches.” Because of this uncertainty, specific indications are required that can provide the public with more information and allow educated decision-making. The article presents examples of the types of racial profiling in existence.
For example, simply for their own safety reasons, taxi drivers will avoid driving into a particular area of the city because of the reputation of it’s propensity to crime. They will also drive past a person of color and stop to pick up a white passenger for that same reason, valid or not. Williams cites his own personal experience with his physician, who uses a typical black man’s health statistics collected from years of study to aggressively monitor his high blood pressure. It is because these medical statistics illustrate that high blood pressure is more prevalent in black men than in any other demographic group. In a n article published in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “Racial Profiling Doesn’t Prove Cops are Racist”, Jackson Toby states that “a little perspective is in order here.” Being a professor of sociology, he believes that racial profiling is an extremely important idea in modern criminology. He continues that within two years of the policy’s adoption by the New York City Transit Police, the number of felonies in the subway declined by more than 30%. Basically, he believes that by paying attention to subtle behavior, criminal behavior can be prevented, and certain ethnic and age groups exhibit certain subtle behaviors.
He goes on to say that although blacks are only 12% of the American population, they comprised 56% of the arrests for murder, 42% of the arrests for rape, 61% of the arrests for robbery, 39% of the arrests for aggravated assault, 31% of the arrests for burglary, 33% of the arrests for larceny, and 40-% of the arrests for motor vehicle theft. Because of these statistics, police are more prone to look for the type of person more apt to commit these crimes, and in these cases, based on the data, African-Americans are brought to the forefront. Naturally, there are opponents to the use of racial profiling of any kind. The most notable is the American Civil Liberties Union, or the ACLU. They have compiled extensive data throughout the years regarding the frequency in which profiling takes place and the demographics of who is stopped and where. Part of their issue with racial profiling stems from the years of providing lawyers to people who have been profiled and the frequency in which people of color are profiled in comparison with whites. Their report entitled, “Driving While Black:Racial Profiling on our Nation’s Highways, attacks the idea “that most drug offenses are committed by minorities” because the searches are most always directed toward the African-American and Latino communities. Therefore, because law enforcement officials find contraband in their cars or on their person, the numbers are disproportionately high in comparison to what is actually happening.
The American Civil Liberties Union contends that five times as many whites use drugs as blacks, but the focus is on the color of the skin and erroneous data. This causes the law enforcement officials to look for certain types of individuals that fit the crime statistics that may or may not be accurate and the African-American, or any other person of color, is observed in a different light. On the website, Politico.com, an online magazine for Latino politics and culture, Representative Danny Davis published an article entitled, “Racial Profiling Persists Despite Laws”. He contends that the “pursuit of equality for African-Americans and other people of color and women has also been an endless source of frustration. He proceeds to say that although there have been significant gains, racial profiling is the symbol of how far we have to go.
Representative Davis believes that racial profiling impacts minorities, but that every American can be affected and that it damages the trust between the community and law enforcement agencies that is already precarious from years or racism and oppression. When weighing the pros and cons of the issue of racial profiling, one must consider and individual’s civil rights and the basic principal of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment states that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable search and seizures, shall not be violated and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath and Affirmation, and particularly describing the places to be searched and the persons or things to be seized” (Meeks, p. 8). There is also the underlying issue of racial discrimination, or biased judgments based on the color of a person’s skin or their national origin.
The bottom line is that when a traffic stop is made simply because the driver is a person of color and there is no other justifiable reason, civil rights have been violated and the individual has been the victim of discrimation. If an African-American is driving down a street in a predominantly white neighborhood in Anytown, USA, he or she can be stopped by a law enforcement office simply for the reason that he or she is not white. The officer may believe the car to be stolen or that the individual is selling drugs. Whatever the case, racial profiling of this sort is plainly and simply wrong. The apprehension and fear involved in a traffic stop is already quite intense.
When the issues of race and criminal activity are added to this, the emotional intensity increases to a boiling point. I will apply two ethical theories to prove my point that racial profiling is wrong; Kantian Ethics, or respect for persons, and Rawlsian Ethics, or the mutual agreement behind the veil of ignorance. The basic principal of Kantian ethics is respect for persons, “whose central theme is that equal respect must be paid to the personhood of all human beings” (Harris, p. 157). One of the moral standards to consider is the Universalitation Principle, which states that “an action is right if you can consent to everyone’s adopting the moral rule presupposed by the action” (Harris, p. 158).
In this case, the moral issue of discrimination is called into question. I believe that no one should engage in racial profiling at any time, whether it be law enforcement officials making a routine traffic stop, or a sales clerk closely observing minority patrons and virtually ignoring white patrons. Can I agree to everyone consistently acting simultaneously according to this same rule? The answer is a resounding yes. Hence, racial profiling is wrong. According to the principal of Rawlsian Ethics, a just society is one “in which no one has an unfair advantage over others” (Olen and Barry, p.
17). Supposed for an instant that I was African-American or Latina, or any other person of color. If I was born into that culture, I would not want to be stopped for no other reason than my skin color. There may be a day where the tables are turned and whites will become the profiled group. No one knows what the future holds, and where one will eventually fall in society.
In this ethical theory, every person has the right to freedom and there must be equal freedom to all. Secondly, if there is inequality in society, it must be to everyone’s advantage. Racial profiling violates a minority person’s basic freedom of protection from the Fourth Amendment, and this violation of freedom benefits no one. Philosophy.