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Justification of Racial Profiling essay

In recent years, racial profiling has become the subject of much controversy in the United States. This law enforcement tactic has come under so much scrutiny because many feel that it specifically targets minorities and violates our civil rights. However, when race is combined with other key identifying characteristics of criminal involvement, profiling is a sensible and useful technique in which police employ the laws of probability to make the best use of their scarce resources in attacking crime. As a result of the huge public outcry against this practice, many laws have been and are in the process of being enacted to make profiling illegal. In turn, this makes law enforcement’s job of protecting society from criminals, such as drug dealers, and in light of recent events, terrorists more complicated and near impossible.

Profiling is a well-known and long standing tool used by law enforcement to attempt to identify individuals involved in criminal activity. It is based on profiles or a set of coherent facts that reflect known conditions and observable behaviors associated with criminal activity. True profiling requires various factors to be considered in order for the technique to be successful. For example, in the 1970s the DEA issued a compilation of identifying characteristics of drug couriers which include nervousness; conflicting information about origin and destination among companion travelers, no luggage for a long trip, lots of cash, and lack of driver’s license or insurance. Furthermore, race and ethnicity become important identifiers when combined with other ‘suspicious’ characteristics due to past crime rate information.

African-Americans commit a disproportionate percentage of the crimes that draw the attention of the police. While blacks comprise about 12% of the national population, they account for about 58% of all carjackers between 1992 and 1996. Many victims of crimes committed by blacks-who are black themselves- indicate through their victim surveys that blacks commit almost 50% of all robberies. About 1.1 percent of the nation’s population is comprised of black males between the ages of 14 and 24 and about 28% of homicides committed nationally are by this group. Based on past data collected regarding drug felonies, blacks and hispanics are the back-bone of the country’s heroin and cocaine distribution networks. As stated by Clayton Searle, president of the International Narcotics Interdiction Association, “Those who purport to be shocked that ethnic groups are overrepresentated in the population arrested for drug courier activities must have been in a coma for the last 20 years. The fact is that certain ethnic groups do control the majority of the drug trade in the United States. They also tend to hire their underlings and couriers others of their same group.”.

From past experience and information, law enforcement has the intelligence that much of the drug trafficking in the Northeast U.S. is conducted by Jamaicans that happen to favor driving Nissan Pathfinders. In Denver it has been tracked that mainly “minorities, Mexican nationals” sell heroin and in Trenton, “crack dealers are predominantly African American males and powdered cocaine dealers are predominantly Latino.”. Regarding the events of September 11th, the profiles of terrorists were developed upon various factors including the undeniable fact that all involved in the tragedy were of Arab origin. In summary, it is knowledge, reason, intuition and cold hard facts that law enforcement relies upon when profiling. It is not meant to suggest that all crime is committed by minorities, but instead that there is valid reason to suspect certain races/ethnicities may be engaged in certain types of criminal behavior.

The main reason that profiling by law enforcement is essential is the difficulty of policing ‘victimless’ crimes such as the drug trade and terrorism. In the case of a mugging or murder there is a victim and police are aware of a specific crime that has been committed and are able to accumulate evidence and investigate suspects based on their specific findings. However, the majority of crimes that profiling attempts to indicate the perpetrators of, there is no third party whose rights have been violated and can bring the crime to the attention of the police. When someone is transporting a few kilos of cocaine on I-95 from seller to buyer, there is no one to come forward and complain. Similarly, if there are individuals who have the intention to commit terrorist acts on the United States, before it is too late, there are no victims to bring the crime to the attention of law enforcement. Typically drug dealers and terrorists do not walk around outwardly proclaiming their criminal behaviors. To discover victimless crimes, investigators must become intrusive and simply poke around wherever they can, trying to uncover such crimes and use the information that they do have readily available to their advantage. We cannot have effective law enforcement without allowing for some scope of probability.

Unfortunately, as with many other areas of life in the United States, flagrant racism and prejudice do exist in some cases of policing that has drawn major attention to the topic of profiling from the media, the public and Washington. It can be viewed that there are two types of profiling: first, law enforcement’s use of profiling as a tactic to combat unseen criminal activity through combinations of incriminating factors (i.e. race in concert with other indicators) and secondly racial profiling or the practice of profiling based solely on one characteristic – race or ethnicity which is a result of an officer’s prejudices towards a certain group. Much of the public tends to believe that the majority of police officers’ profiling activity falls within the latter type. A Gallup Poll released in 1999 reveals that over half of participants polled believed that law enforcement officers do engage in racial profiling and approximately 81% of these people strongly disprove of the practice. It has been dubbed by the public as “Driving while Black/Brown” or “Flying while Arab” suggesting the perceived narrow intentions of the technique. Increased attention to this topic and demands for reformation to the alleged injustices to minority communities has enlisted the efforts of lawmakers to eliminate the practice. More than 20 states have adopted legislation prohibiting the practice of racial profiling and/or mandating data collection on stops and searches. Hundreds of individual jurisdictions have voluntarily begun to collect racial profiling data and several jurisdictions are collecting data as a result of federal or state court settlements or consent decrees. In 2001 New York Senators R. Feingold, J. Corzine and H. Clinton had introduced S. 989/H.R. 2074 as the “End Racial Profiling Act of 2001.” This law would, among other things, concretely define racial profiling and make it illegal, give victims the right to sue the violating police departments and mandate & fund the report of collected data of traffic stops to the Attorney General. In a February 2001 address to Congress, President George W. Bush stated that he had asked Attorney General John Ashcroft “to develop specific recommendations to end racial profiling. It is wrong and we will end it in America.”.

The subject of racial profiling is another element added to the composition of an already historically adversarial relationship between law enforcement and minority communities. It would be naïve to state that racial biases never arise in some police officer’s decisions. In the same token, it would be ignorant to assume that all police activity stems from flagrant racism that is thought to plague the organization. The overall technique of profiling should not be condemned in response to alleged racially charged actions of some officers. Law enforcement and the American jurisprudence system substantiate that it is an extremely effective and necessary method of attempting to combat crimes that otherwise go unnoticed until an epidemic or a catastrophe occurs. In the past five years profiling has aided in decreasing crime by about 20% . In the aftermath of the September 11th tragedy, the nation has acquired much intelligence regarding groups that have a great deal of hatred for our nation and wish to cause massive amounts of destruction. It would be an even bigger tragedy if law enforcement had this information and didn’t use it to their advantage in the process of protecting society. Every caution needs to be exercised to ensure that a tragedy of that magnitude never occurs again. Unfortunately, it does mean that innocent bystanders will be subjects of questionings or investigations. However, the public should revel in comfort that their law enforcement departments are taking every measure to ensure the public’s safety and well-being.
In contemporary society, the continuing war against drugs and the war on terrorism require that police utilize non-traditional tactics to combat these criminal activities that don’t play by traditional rules. Common sense dictates that in order to clean up our streets and make our communities a safer place one would have to focus their attention to what has caused the problems in the past.

While some may argue that an unfair amount of attention has been paid to particular minority or ethnic groups in regards to certain crimes, I suggest that they research criminal statistics and instead focus their efforts on decreasing the amount of criminal activity committed by members of their community from within and then perhaps profiling factors will no longer link the group to specific crimes. When used justifiably, profiling is an extremely valuable tool that law enforcement has at its disposal simply from analyzing past data. If there is the possibility that police are able to target potential criminals before committing a crime, violating another individuals rights, or creating a national disaster then they should be allowed the opportunity, so long as they treat the potential suspects with respect and allow them to maintain their dignity. Due to a few instances of misapplication of the technique and the public’s lack of knowledge of true profiling, this very important tool of law enforcement has been severely restricted. If law enforcement is trained and able to apply profiling in its intended manner and not implicate personal biases in its application then it should be allowed because it serves to promote and protect the overall well being of the general public and the rights and privileges of American citizens.

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