Racial Profiling By The People Criminology Essay

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In the wake of World War II, out of fear of Japanese spies, 110,000 Japanese Americans were forced to halt their lives, uproot their families, and live in crowded internment camps for nearly four years-forced by the United States government. This blatant, devastating instance of racial profiling is looked upon in shame by today's federal government; in 1988 President Ronald Ragan signed a bill awarding $20,000 and a presidential letter of apology to every individual or ancestor of an individual who suffered through this ordeal (Kops 2). Yet racial profiling by the same definition, that is the discriminatory act of singling out an individual for unusually intensive scrutiny based on their race or ethnicity, still persists in the United States law enforcement system, and by consequence in United States society. Ruth Okimoto, a Japanese-American who lived in one such internment camp as a child, commented that "what happened to the Japanese Americans can happen to any group…It's true that if you don't remember the past, you repeat the mistakes of the past" (Kops 1). It is true that since Ruth's victimization of racial profiling, many other groups have suffered from this form of discrimination, and it is true that many citizens and law enforcement officials in the United States have forgotten, or perhaps neglected to realize the weight of, the mistake of racial profiling. Many citizens and public officials view racial profiling as a necessary measure in terms of national security, but in reality racial profiling yields negative societal effects and little improvement of security or public safety. Racial profiling proves itself to be an ineffective practice, paves the way for unwarranted xenophobia and hate crime, and ultimately undermines the foundations of trust and equality on which the United States legal system is based.

Racial profiling has proven itself to be an ineffective form of policing. This form of racial discrimination has been officially condemned by the federal government, yet it persists in the United States legal system and has popular support in society. Paul Sperry, a conservative investigative journalist, made the popular argument against pedestrian searches approached at random instead of by use of racial profiling: "…the authorities will be stopping Girl Scouts and grannies in a procedure that has more to do with demonstrating tolerance than protecting citizens from terrorism" (Kops 7). Many would agree with Sperry, but this argument is unreasonable and misinformed. Such opinions in favor of racial profiling neglect the fact that studies have consistently shown that police findings of illegal contraband or activities among minorities are actually lower than discoveries of illegal activities or contraband among Caucasians ("Sanctioned Bias" 2), yet studies also show that minority groups such as Hispanic, African, and Arab Americans are disproportionally the subjects of investigation. A survey conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union and statistician John Lamberth examined the Interstate-95 north of Baltimore, finding that just 17.5 percent of traffic violators on the Interstate were African American, yet 28.8 percent of drivers stopped were African American, and a whopping 71.3 percent of those searched were African American (Kops 5). In terms of the war on terror, Sperry pointed out that "young Muslim men bombed the London tube (speaking of the 2005 attack) and young Muslim men attacked New York with planes in 2001" (Kops 7), but approximately one in five people is a Muslim. Is one to suspect that every fifth person he meets is a terrorist? Vincent Cannistano, former head of counterterrorism at the CIA said this on racial profiling: "It's a false lead. It may be intuitive to stereotype people, but profiling is too crude to be effective. I can't think of any examples where profiling has caught a terrorist" ("Sanctioned Bias" 4). Not only is there no logical basis for the use of racial profiling, but policing and search strategies have been proven effective without the use of racial profiling. In the 1990s the United States Customs Service completely eliminated use of race or ethnicity in determining which individuals to stop and search. The 'color-blind profiling' increased productivity-that is the number of searches that led to discovery of illegal activity-by 300% ("Racial Profiling Has a Heavy Social Cost"). Paul Sperry should check his reasoning: racial profiling does nothing to further national security or public safety and causes severe social damage in the process.

The results of this unnecessary procedure, from xenophobia to hate crime and discrimination, are socially detrimental and equally unnecessary. Less than a year after the 9/11 tragedy, the Council of American Islamic Relations released some startling figures. Over 1,700 anti-Muslim incidents had occurred in just a matter of months (Hudson 54). A man drove his car into a mosque in Cleveland, Ohio. In Chicago, over a hundred people, some with weapons, gathered around a mosque chanting, "Kill the Arabs!" In Houston, Texas, an Islamic school was compelled to shut down out of fear of violence (Hudson 54). Within days of the 9/11 attacks, Singh, a Sikh gas station owner, was questioned by over a dozen people on whether he was from Iraq. He finally posted a sign stating: "I am Indian. I am Sikh. I am not Muslim." That same day an elderly man told him, according to the local police report, 'in vulgar language, that he didn't care what country Singh was from, that he didn't belong here because he is not a citizen' (Iyer). Studies of social cognition show that people subconsciously simplify information into social categories, including classification of people based on obvious characteristics such as gender, age, and race. These classifications are natural, but it is the often unintended social effects of acts such as racial profiling that lead to racial or ethnic discrimination and prejudice (Tomaskovic-devey and Warren). As studies like the Baltimore Interstate experiment have proven, discrimination based on social cognitive stereotypes is unreasonable, and need not be strengthened or promoted by racial profiling.

Most unfortunately, this sloppy procedure undermines the foundations of trust and equality upon which this nation was established. Racial profiling does so through its power to sever community and law enforcement relations and breed a general fear, distrust, and agitation with the federal government. A survey taken in 2000 by the Harris Polling Organization showed that 60% of African American respondents felt that their local police force treated certain racial, ethnic, or religious groups unfairly (Harris). A study of the Cincinnati, Ohio area disclosed that significantly more African Americans than Caucasians believed that police were more likely to stop and question African Americans than Caucasians (Harris). One Arab American man and victim of racial profiling said his young daughter witnessed him being pepper-sprayed by the police-she now cries whenever she sees a police officer ("Racial Profiling"). Public recognition of unfairness in the law enforcement system, seen by young children and entire social groups, challenges the legitimacy and trustworthiness of the U.S legal system. This wavering trust is rooted in the unsolicited yet commonly enforced practice of racial profiling, and it is not an unjustified doubt. Racial profiling is in complete violation of the basic principle behind the Fourteenth United States Constitutional Amendment: that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws" (Hudson 15). All persons-White, Black, Arab, Hispanic, young, old, Christian, Sikh or Muslim-are granted life, liberty, and due process of the law, and shall be granted equal opportunity and protection regardless of the aforementioned social classifications. This is the American promise. When made aware or fallen victim to racial profiling, entire communities doubt that promise, along with the integrity and reliability of their police force and their court system: entire communities become estranged from their local law enforcement systems. Individuals who reported themselves victims of racial profiling to Amnesty International revealed feelings of anger and fear, distrust of law enforcement, and reluctance to turn to law enforcement for help ("Racial Profiling"). When people distrust their local police forces and court systems, they become less likely to perceive their legal system's decisions as just and lawful (Harris).As a result, criminal activity in minority neighborhoods often goes unreported and consequentially flourishes ("Racial Profiling"). The isolation, anger and fear felt by individual victims and even entire communities in the face of racial profiling is in complete violation of American civil liberties and defies every principle on which the U.S legal system was founded.

Racial profiling has no reasonable basis, has not shown its effectiveness, yields inexcusable social damage, and undermines the integrity of the United States legal system. The decision to send thousands of Japanese Americans to internment camps was based on the unproven, unrighteous, unfair assumption that Japanese Americans were less likely to remain loyal to their country. The harsh possibility that the United States, which has for centuries served as a haven for immigrants from every corner of the globe, promising life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, does not have faith in its own citizens, or exhibit its promise of equality, is a heartbreaking disappointment. Racial profiling, an unnecessary, arguably inhumane practice interferes with the fulfillment of the American promise in a manner that is difficult to ignore, yet somehow difficult to address. In a nation that is by the people and for the people, racial profiling is an issue that is directly against the people. In a nation that is by the people, it is the responsibility of the people-citizens and law enforcement officials alike-to recognize and stop such a discriminatory, unpatriotic act as racial profiling.