Racial Profiling by Police

In the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, countless numbers of Arab-Americans and even those who could "pass" as Arab have been targeted or "profiled" for suspicion if not overt investigation. Few Americans would argue that this is a practice that has only been in place since September of 2001. In reality, people who do not fit the stereotyped or assumed "norm" for a particular area, kind of car, or travel plans have been stopped, questioned, pulled over, or pulled out of line throughout the history of the United States.

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack the issue of "racial profiling" has become topical, as the urgency of preventing terrorists from boarding aircraft has again risen. Opponents of the practice of considering the race of terrorist suspects say that the gains made from targeting an ethnic group are not outweighed by the feeling of insecurity that innocent members of that group are subjected to.

Some point out that Al-Qaida is a religious, not ethnic terrorist organization and therefore racial profiling not only can cause false charging of innocent people, but it can also allow non-Arab Muslims who belong to Al-Qaida or other terrorist groups to get away with terrorism. Some say that once Osama bin Laden realizes that we use racial profiling he'll make his top terrorists non-Arabs. (Wikepedia pg 1) Racial profiling not only discriminates against people of color and Hispanics, but also is an inadequate method of policing.

A justification for racial profiling is the belief that stopping and searching mostly people of color is justifiable because they are more likely to be guilty of drug offences. The reality is that people of color and Hispanics are stopped at higher rates than any other ethnic groups, therefore making this reasoning is incorrect. Traffic stops by the Maryland State Police on Interstate 95 were monitored for a two-year period to test racial profiling. "In the two year period from January 1995 to December 1997, 70 percent of drivers stopped and searched by the police were black, while only 17.

5 percent of overall drivers-as well as speeders-were black (Justice, 2). The assumptions that stem from racial profiling are that minorities commit the majority of crime, and that most minorities are criminals, but both are wrong. Racial profiling convicts a disproportionate amount of people of color, and fills the jails with a disproportionate amount of people of color. (Webb pg 1) On our nation's highways today, police ostensibly looking for drug criminals routinely stop drivers based on the color of their skin.

It makes you more likely to be stopped, more likely to be searched, and more likely to be arrested and imprisoned. Tens of thousands of innocent motorists on highways across the country are victims of racial profiling. And these discriminatory police stops have reached epidemic proportions in recent years fueled by the "War on Drugs" that has given police a pretext to target people who they think fit a "drug courier" or "gang member" profile. We must put an end to the practice of racial profiling.

This is why America's prisons are filled with people of color, and if racial profiling continues to be practiced by law enforcement, then private prisons will keep their beds filled and state run prisons will still be overcrowded. As long as black people are black and the justice system is rooted in the same racism that slavery was rooted in, then black people will continue to be targeted in this country. (Webb pg 1). No person of color is safe from this treatment anywhere, regardless of their obedience to the law, their age, the type of car they drive, or their station in life.

In short, skin color has become evidence of the propensity to commit crime, and police use this "evidence" against minority drivers on the road all the time. In the most simplistic of explanations, racial profiling is the practice of questioning whether or not somebody "fits" into a particular place or situation as defined by certain authorities or law enforcement agencies. As Linda Kenney (2002), explains it in the context of police officers stopping somebody: "Racial profiling is not a suspect-specific stop that incorporates the race of the suspect.

It is a stop based on race alone" (pp. 23). For example, a highway patrol officer may not be on the lookout for a red Jaguar sedan but the simple fact that a young man of apparent Hispanic heritage is seen driving such a car in a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood triggers a negative reaction by the patrol officer. In such a scenario, Hispanic (or Asian or African American) male, expensive car, and the "wrong" location all serves as an indicator for an individual officer or a policy, official or otherwise, issued by a particular law enforcement organization.

For example, the highly-publicized occurrence of racial profiling that was found on the New Jersey Turnpike was one in which Richard Lowry (2002) explains that "… police mark out a whole class of people as more likely than average to be transporting drugs, and then stop large numbers of them. " According to Lowry, blacks make up 16 percent of the drivers on the turnpike, and 25 percent of the speeders in the 65-mile-per-hour zones, where profiling complaints are most common. (The study counted only those going more than 15 miles per hour over the speed limit as speeders.)

Black drivers speed twice as much as white drivers, and speed at reckless levels even more. Blacks are actually stopped less than their speeding behavior would predict, they are 23 percent of those stopped. Lowry also notes later in his report that: The New Jersey State Police's practice of racial profiling became a predominant public issue after a New Jersey Superior Court judge in Gloucester County declared… that the state police endorsed, on at least a de facto basis, a policy of racial profiling. (Pg. 33)