The Issues Concerning Racial Profiling Criminology Essay

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What is racial profiling exactly? According to Macmillan Dictionary, racial profiling is: "the practice of thinking that people of a particular race or color will behave in a particular way, especially in a criminal way". This research paper will focus on racial profiling, but more specifically, how government officials and law enforcement officers in today's society use racial profiling for security purposes. The research question, which the research paper will focus on and hopefully at the end of the paper will have answered, is: Is the practice of racial profiling effective towards public safety, or is it completely discriminatory and unethical? Racial Profiling has existed for almost a century, but has been on the forefront of government concerns and media attention ever since September 11th, 2001. Governments and law enforcement officers have become extremely strict on determining who is likely to commit a particular crime or illegal act, especially in airports and other transportation facilities, particularly in the United Sates of America. This research paper will try and answer the research question by looking at two social science disciplines, these disciplines are: History and sociology. Researching the history of racial profiling will help better understand when racial profiling began and how it became so practiced in today's society. Looking at racial profiling in a sociological point of view will help study society and it's development and structure.

We wonder sometimes if racial profiling is helping society, or if it is actually harming it by sacrificing equality, a significant 20th century value. My hypothesis is that at the end of this research paper I will continuously believe that racial profiling does not actually save more lives when practiced because it is unethical to punish a whole race for the crimes that only a few individuals have committed.

General Information on Racial Profiling

Before anything, it is important to get a clear definition of racial profiling in a law enforcement perspective: " Racial profiling occurs whenever a law enforcement officer questions, stops, searches, or otherwise investigates a person because the officer believes that members of that person's racial or ethnic group are more likely than the population at large to commit the sort of crime the officer is investigating" (Gross, 2002). The public has many different views on racial profiling. There have been different surveys conducted throughout the years on this issue. In 1999 a Gallop survey found that:"59 percent of adults polled agreed that 'some police officers stop motorists of certain racial or ethnic groups because the officers believe that these groups are more likely than others to commit certain types of crimes,' Seventy-seven percent of blacks agreed with the statement, compared to 56 percent of whites; however, 80 percent of both groups disapproved of the practice." (Ward, 2002)

Basing public policy solely on the approval or the disapproval of the public is not in any way a legitimate mean for governing a society. Any policy, racial profiling included, should be weighed both with respect to public opinion and with respect to the need to protect the rights of individuals. [1] In any case, by the late 1990's there seemed to be a public consensus that largely disagreed with the practice of racial profiling. In 1999 as much as 81% of Americans, based on that particular poll, stood against the practice of "racial profiling" (Gross 202, p. 1413). Unfortunately people, in times of crisis, are prone to both give up their rights and to seek to strip others of their rights [2] . With respect to racial profiling, the moment that triggered these beliefs was September 11, 2001. The horrific terrorist attacks, allegedly perpetrated by Muslim radicals, provoked a great change in the opinion of the American people regarding the acceptability and proper place of racial profiling. [3] The change was not just limited to the public. President George Bush himself ordered Attorney General John Ashcroft "to review the use by federal law enforcement authorities of race as a factor in conducting stops, searches and other investigative procedures" (Ward 2002, p. 727). By late 2001 58% of Americans agreed that Arabs, both U.S. citizens and otherwise, should be subject to increased suspicion and investigation. [4] Since 9/11 the U.S. government has had a somewhat official policy of profiling Arabs and the policy has been long practiced in local law enforcement jurisdictions. [5] 

Media Portrayals of Racial Profiling

The media, T.V., news, and Internet seem to be making the issues of racial profiling worse. Many people absorb stereotypes of racial and ethnic minorities due to the way these people are depicted in the media. This in turn affects the way these same people feel about the policy in general. For example, in the crime sections of newspapers, "ethnic minorities are the central focus of crime features and are thus portrayed as the prime source of crime in our nation" (Henry 2007). Very often the ethnicity of the victims of these crimes, themselves minorities are not given, encouraging the stereotype. People of color are almost always the criminals and whites are almost always the victims (when the victim is shown). This general imagery promotes the practice of racial profiling among law enforcement and legitimizes it in the eyes of the public [6] . This tendency in the media: "results [in a] miscommunication by the reader who assumes that the images and facts portrayed are representations or racial groups as a whole" (Henry,2007). The media completely distorts the way people think. The images of 9/11 and the Arab terrorists who caused it did nothing more than to greatly underscore the "need" for racial profiling.

Ethical Issues Concerning Racial Profiling

Looking at the definition of racial profiling given earlier, it is evident that racial profiling goes completely against modern, that is twentieth century, notions of equality. If we look at the ethical issues concerning racial profiling from an American perspective (considering the American constitution), it is clear that investigating, especially arresting, ethnic minorities on the basis of their race, with no other particularized motive is a direct violation to the "14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause "(Gross 2002,). Law enforcement and government in general must develop policies which allow for limited targeting of racial or ethnic groups only in specific cases and where there exist specific evidence or witness testimony [7] . Public safety is important, but it may not come at the expense of individual rights.

As well as violating the 14th amendment, racial profiling violates but the 4th amendment. The 4th 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" (Gross 2002,). It is noticeable that there is a severe issue with racial profiling or when there are biased judgments based on a person's skin color.

Besides the fact that racial profiling goes against the 20th century notions of equality, racial profiling is also seen as morally wrong. Racial profiling causes many problems in a society. One big problem is the fact that allowing law enforcement agencies to practice racial profiling, "promotes the internal segregation of suspects within the minds of the population, and it creates a second-class citizenship for black and Latino Americans"(Head, 2008). With all of this information, it is easy to say that when an officer stops a person at a traffic stop or any other transportation facility with no justifiable reason, civil rights are violated.

Historical Analysis of Racial Profiling

Although most people believe that racial profiling is a very new concept and that it only began a few decades ago, this practice has been used for centuries. Racial profiling has existed practically from the beginning of time. There have been many events in history where we can see the practice of racial profiling. For instance in 1514, King Charles mandated that all natives of the Americas must either submit to Spanish authority and convert to Roman Catholicism or face persecution. [8] Though there are many incidents where racial profiling occurred before the 17th century, studies show that racism really took hold in the 1800's in the Unites States.

"African Americans have suffered discrimination on grounds of race, initially through the system of slavery and then through a pattern of exclusion and segregation, both informal and formal, in the shape of legislation and court decisions that have historically endorsed overt racial discrimination. From the time of the inception of slavery in the early 17th Century until 1865, slaves were considered the property of their masters based on a view that they were naturally unequal and inferior people" (Banks, 2004).

Today, racial profiling is extremely evident in our society, especially after 9/11. This is probably why racial profiling is known as a 20th century ideology because it was really sparked only a few years ago. When you hear the term racial profiling, September 11th is usually what comes to mind. Following the September 11th attacks, "the Bush administration rounded up an unknown number of Middle Eastern women and men on suspicion of being associated with terrorist groups. Some were deported; some are released; hundreds captured overseas remain imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, where they remain imprisoned without trial to this day"(Gross, 2002).

The Sept. 11 attacks were said to be the start of a new age of international terrorism in America. Ever since the attacks, most of North American has this Irrational Anxiety and it is brought about by media hype, false alarms, and other events that result in confusion and denial [9] . It increases a sense of insecurity and interferes with production and efficiency.

Sociological Analysis of Racial Profiling

Sociology is the study of a society, therefore looking at racial profiling form a sociological perspective would mean studying the reasons why racial profiling has become so practiced and it's effects on society.

As mentioned earlier, racial profiling has existed for centuries but has been on the forefront of society's concerns for nearly ten years. Previously mentioned, the September 11 attacks are what sparked the irrational fear of terrorism, causing the use of racial profiling to explode. When a country is in a frantic fear they are willing to go through extremely drastic measures to be safe again, and in this case, it is racial profiling. When police stop someone at a traffic stop due to their race, they are engaging in stereotyping, they are generalizing about a certain race and this can cause many negative effects on a society. Stereotypes aren't always bad, if used at a moderate amount, they allow people to learn about different cultures. However, when the government in the form of racial profiling uses stereotypes, there can be some destructive consequences to a society. A country's government can be very influential over it's citizens, for that reason if a country's government openly uses racial profiling, its citizens might engage in the same behavior.

Racial profiling can cause much damage to a society. Racial profiling done by the government causes people to discriminate and use stereotypes towards specific races. The victims of discrimination and racial profiling can end up with emotional damage and loss of self-esteem. The victims might also retaliate against their government and those that discriminate against them. It is not only the victims that are affected negatively due to racial profiling, but also the 'person' doing the racial profiling and stereotyping. People that engage in excessive stereotyping and racial profiling close their mind to new possibilities, and are unable to learn, and create relationships with people of a particular race [10] . "Stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination can all serve to undermine the moral functioning of our meritocracy, as individual efforts are often overshadowed by inaccurate perceptions and unfair expectations." (Higgins, 2009)


Firstly, before analyzing all the information on racial profiling it is important to ask ourselves one more question: "Does racial profiling actually protect our society?" According to many different articles, racial profiling causes more harm than anything else. The government locks up thousands of innocent people each year, due to racial profiling. Racial profiling has so many negative effects that it overpowers the very small

portion of positive ones. Deep down, people know that racial profiling is wrong, and this was shown previously in the 1999 Gallop survey, where most of the population disagreed with the use of racial profiling. But now, since there is this fear of terrorism primarily because of 9/11, people have seemed to forget what they believed in, which was equality.

It was definitely interesting to see how racial profiling is not a new concept, and has been practiced for hundreds of years. But, what was definitely most surprising was the fact that we, as human beings have evolved an inexplicable amount and have fought continuously for rights, freedom and equality and now in 2010, seem to be moving backwards, and stripping away the freedom of specific groups of people all over again. Though stated earlier, my hypothesis was: "that at the end of this research paper I will continuously believe that racial profiling does not actually save more lives when practiced because it is unethical to punish a whole race for the crimes that only a few individuals have committed". Now that it is the end of the research paper, not only does my opinions still stand but now with all of the information learned my belief that: racial profiling does not actually save more lives when practiced, is a much firmer belief. I truly believe racial profiling by governments and law officials make the issues of stereotyping and discrimination in a society considerably greater, and destroys more lives than it supposedly "saves".


To conclude, racial profiling is a very important issue in today's society and its use needs to be overlooked. It is completely unethical to judge someone and presume someone's actions because of the color of his or her skin. Racial profiling is occurring all across the globe and does not seem to be diminishing. Racial profiling needs to end, so that slowly discrimination and stereotyping can decrease in our society, and other societies across the world. If racial profiling continues in this manner, future generations will be brought up in a world full of racism and equality, which is an ideology that we've become accustomed, too, will no longer exist.