Holbert and Rose (2004) write that it is "difficult to regulate an outward deed when a person's racially motivated thoughts are camouflaged by legitimate actions" and between these thoughts and outward actions lies a "gray area" that is nearly impossible to externally regulate (p. 1). That gray area is so tough to regulate because there is not a consensus as to what, exactly, constitutes racial profiling. Only racially motivated, illegitimate action can be considered a racist crime. Racially motivated action that is legitimate, though racist, is accepted behavior.
As an example, note those who view racial profiling as acceptable, pointing out instances where it works, arguing that in some cases racism helps, not hurts, the criminal justice system. Terence K. Saulsby, the art director at Black Enterprise magazine, says that "profiling is almost like a survival skill… what we call racial profiling is not as bad as we make it out to be" (Meeks, 2000 52). Police officers from around the country have gone on record saying that racial profiling is not racism, but that it is a "tool" that helps them to apprehend criminals.
Other police officers have said they are "justified" in scrutinizing young African Americans more closely than any other group because blacks "commit a disproportionate number of street crimes" (p. 53). Is racial profiling justified even then, or is this type of thinking only further evidence of the racism that causes the profiling itself? Walker (1992) points out that while blacks make up only 12 percent of the population, they represent 30 percent of all persons arrested and 49 percent of all persons in prison (p. 225).
One could argue that this means that blacks are much more likely to engage in criminal activity than whites are – a statement which would provide strong support for racial profiling. Meeks (2000) writes that the New York Times also printed some statistics "that put the argument for racial profiling into perspective": African Americans commit a disproportionate percent of the types of crimes that draw the attention of the police. Blacks make up 12 percent of the population, but accounted for 58 percent of all carjackings between 1992 and 1996. (Whites account for only 19 percent.)
Victim surveys indicate that blacks commit almost 50 percent of all robberies. Blacks and Hispanics are widely believed to be the blue-collar backbone of the country's heroin- and cocaine-distribution networks. Because blacks (and Hispanics) accounted for such a high percentage of certain crimes, some argued, "reason, not racism, directs cops' attention" (p. 54). After closer review, though, I argue that this report provides evidence against the necessity of racial profiling instead of an endorsement for it. Consider, for example, the statistic on carjackings.
Meeks writes that during Robert Wilkins' trial (see above), his legal team conducted a study of the work of police on Maryland's I-95. While only 17 percent of the drivers on the highway were African Americans, they made up nearly 75 percent of the people who were being stopped and searched (p. 25). Not surprisingly, then, the study found that African Americans were far more likely to be charged with a crime, even though the study also showed that of all drivers, more than 90 percent "were violating some form of traffic laws" (p. 26).
Perhaps blacks are not taking part in more carjackings than others, but they are simply more likely to be targeted as suspects, arrested, and convicted than others. It is possible that victims of robberies are more likely to indicate blacks as the perpetrator because of the way blacks are viewed in society, and it is conceivable that police officers and prosecutors are more likely to make blacks a suspect or believe victims if they claim that a black committed the crime. And maybe, the belief that blacks and Hispanics run our nation's blue-collar drug system is a self-fulfilling prophecy, a vicious cycle of racism.
Walker (1992) writes that many statistics related to crime, and the race of persons committing that crime, "indicate a pattern of systematic racial discrimination in the administration of justice, and by the police in particular… black crime and the position of blacks within the nation's system of criminal justice administration are related to past and present social opportunities and disadvantages and can be best understood through consideration of blacks' overall social status" (p. 225). Meeks (2000) asked a young woman "to describe what a criminal looks like.
" She wasn't quite sure, but she consulted her own experience in her attempt. "I had a cousin who was robbed once," she said, "it was so long ago, I forget what my cousin said he looked like… The only thing I know for sure was that the robber was a black man" (p. 57). Somehow this detail is the one that remains. The mass media and statistics such as those listed above serve to remind society that this is the profile of a criminal: a black man, "any black man. " We are constantly told that it is blacks that commit crimes, so it is no wonder that police officers think this way as well.
A Gallup poll published in 2004 found that "a substantial proportion of Americans believe racial profiling is widespread. " Slightly more than half (53%) of those interviewed felt that the practice of "stopping motorists because of their race or ethnicity is widespread. " Not surprisingly, almost 70 percent of black Americans felt that racial profiling is widespread in traffic stops. What is most surprising, though, is that 31 percent of the public think that the practice is justified (Carlson, 2004).
This comes in the face of a wave of sentiment to the contrary, including some who would argue that the practice is unconstitutional. According to Walker (1992), a 1967 report by the Kerner Commission, which was created to study the national crisis in race relations, reported "deep hostility between police and ghetto communities," and that police operations must be changed "to ensure proper individual conduct and to eliminate abrasive practices" (p. 22). Three years earlier, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "specifically prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origins, religion, or sex" (p.
55). It is, as Holbert and Rose (2004) wrote, "illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional" (p. 1) Keith Norton, the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission says that his research provides "adequate evidence that racial profiling does occur," and that the practice "has no place in our society… we have to stop debating the issue and start acting on it" (OHRC, 2003).
Still, racial profiling permeates our country, and when it comes to race relations in America, "few topics generate more discussion than racial profiling does" (Carlson, 2004). No clear-cut solution to the problem has been suggested (though some argue that it is not a problem at all). Nevertheless, it is a salient social issue, one of importance because of the inequality that it entails.
American Civil Liberties Union (2004). USA PATRIOT ACT. Keep America Safe and Free. Retrieved December 6, 2004 from the World Wide Web: http://www. aclu. org/SafeandFree/SafeandFree. cfm? ID=12126&c=207 Carlson, D. (2004, July 20). [Gallup Poll Briefing]. Racial Profiling Seen as Pervasive, Unjust. The Gallup Organization. Retrieved December 2, 2004 from LexisNexis online database.