Racial Profiling

Topics: Police, United States, Race Pages: 5 (1247 words) Published: October 7, 2014


Back in the 1960s, African Americans were promised that the United States of America would no longer judge people by the color of their skin. Today, nearly fifty years later, the issue of double standards pertaining to race and ethnicity still remains quite controversial. One of the many ways the problem manifests itself is the practice of racial profiling, which is “any arbitrary police-initiated action based on race, ethnicity, or natural origin rather than a person’s behavior.”1 In an attempt to fight the war on drugs, or, more recently, on terrorism, federal and local governments are searching for more effective policies, which can have unintended racial consequences. Racial profiling happens to be one of them. More specifically, it comes into play when law enforcement agencies assume that people of certain race, ethnicity, and religion are more likely to be engaged in something illegal. Not surprisingly, such practices lead to a tremendous public backlash, raising questions concerning society’s commitment to the rule of law and the protection of individual rights,2 as well as moral and ethical aspects of such policies. Given how sensitive and controversial the topic of race is, it is important to try to answer the question whether racial profiling can be justified as a public policy. Thus, we look at opposite viewpoints of two scholars: Scott Johnson, a conservative journalist and an attorney, who supports racial profiling, and David A. Harris, a law professor and a leading authority on racial profiling, who argues against racial profiling.

Johnson suggests that racial profiling is an essential tool in the arsenal of law enforcement agencies that allows to prevent crime and maintain national security effectively. To prove the racial neutrality of policing, he refers to the data on crime rates and arrests by race. He claims “that higher levels of arrests and incarceration in the U.S. by ethnicity result substantially from higher levels of crime, not racial bias.”3 Johnson further relies on research on traffic stops that concludes that there are ethnic differences in driving behavior that explain higher stop rates for black drivers. He addresses the issue of equal hit rates among disproportionately targeted population by saying that this is a natural outcome of police “focusing on legitimately suspicious behavior.”4 Moreover, he argues that the restrictions on profiling will have an adverse effect on minority groups who experience higher rate of crimes. Therefore, Johnson concludes that racial profiling is a reasonable and effective practice in modern society.

On the other hand, Harris challenges racial profiling on moral, ethical, constitutional, and empirical grounds. He argues that such law enforcement technique allows police to use high-discretion methods in detaining and searching people without, possibly, a probable cause. Furthermore, according to Harris, “In a society dedicated to equal justice under law, such a practice also undermines our commitment to individual civil rights.”5He claims that reliance on race and ethnicity to enforce law contradicts the Constitution and American political culture. He also points out that racial profiling is detrimental to the partnership between police and the citizens, and that such practices alienate members of minority groups reinforcing damaging stereotypes. Harris also draws on statistical data to support his standing. He questions the effectiveness of racial profiling by claiming that “the hit rate for drugs and weapons in police searches of African Americans is the same as or lower than the rate for whites.” In other words, he implies that the only way racial profiling could be justified if we had higher hit rates among targeted minorities. But since the rates are almost equal or lower, the reliance on race doesn’t make sense. Harris attempts to dismantle the notion of racial profiling as a legitimate and effective institutional practice that is “based not on...


Bibliography: Harris, David A. “Profiles in Injustice: American Life under the Regime of Racial Profiling.” In Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Race and Ethnicity, 9th ed., edited by Raymond D’Angelo and Herbert Douglas, 215-224. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013.
Johnson, Scott. “Better Unsafe than (Occasionally) Sorry?” In Taking Sides: Clashing Views In Race And Ethnicity, 9th ed., edited by Raymond D’Angelo and Herbert Douglas, 212-214. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013.
Schaefer, Richard T. Racial and Ethnic Groups, 13th ed. Pearson: Prentice Hall Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2012.
Takaki, Ronald. A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, 1st ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1993.
Tomaskovic-Devey, Donald and Patricia Warren. “Explaining and Eliminating Racial Profiling.” Contexts 8(2)(2009): 34-39. doi: 10.1525/ctx.2009.8.2.34.
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