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Racial profiling. Does it happen? Is it just?

 
 
Reply Thu 5 Aug, 2004 10:13 pm
I would like to know what everyone thinks about racial profiling by police forces and whatnot.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 1 • Views: 2,823 • Replies: 66
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stuh505
 
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Reply Thu 5 Aug, 2004 10:29 pm
WELL....it doesnt happen in Vermont...
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CarbonSystem
 
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Reply Thu 5 Aug, 2004 10:29 pm
Is that good or bad? I'm just tryin to spark a debate here, anyone with an answer?
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ebrown p
 
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Reply Thu 5 Aug, 2004 10:50 pm
It is bad.

My son (young teenager with a wonderfully dark complexion) gets followed in stores. His paler friends of the same age don't.

You have no idea how much that bothers me (and him). How the hell I am supposed to ask him to accept the fact that he is singled out simple because of his color. This is especially hard since, as a very pale adult, I have never directly experienced this.

On several occasions I wanted to confront the idiots who feel the need to give my son special attention. He has made me promise not to make a scene. But he expresses anger (and rightfully so).

This really pisses me off!
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Letty
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 10:30 am
Racial profiling is the absolute pits, and yes, it has happened in Florida. eBrown, it should piss you off big time. What a ridiculous and unnecessary humiliation for your son to be put through. My son is olive complexioned with deep brown eyes, and it would make me furious should that have happened to him.
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JustanObserver
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 12:36 pm
And yet another reason why I respect e_brown. I understand his/her son's experience.

I'm Latino, and unless I'm wearing a shirt and tie (business attire), I get followed around in stores. A LOT. Its hard to describe how demeaning it is, but just picture this:

You walk in. Someone who works at the store sees you and immediately starts "cleaning" or "organizing" something on the rack behind you. You move, and oddly enough, wherever you go, the rack behind you needs attention. And most of the time, they aren't very discreet about it. They don't do this at the end of the aisle, but RIGHT BEHIND YOU.

I used to think it was funny for a while, and I’d play games with them. I’d walk to one side of the store, then midway I’d abruptly turn around and walk in the other direction, which made it obvious they were following me. Or I’d start acting extra shady (trying to hide from them…that usually drove them nuts). A few times I would just turn around and look at them directly until they went away. Eventually, it just made me feel sick in general.

As much as I hate to say it, I found that Indian/Pakistani businesses did this much more than others. Sad, really.

In any case, Profiling is just sad. Basically, if your a cop, you find what your looking for. If you only pull over dark people, of course you'll find many of them who have broken the law. The flip side is also true. If you only pulled over while people, you'll find plenty who broke the law as well.
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Asherman
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 12:42 pm
Profiling is neither "good' nor "bad", it is just the way things are.

It is a fact that most violent crimes are committed by under-employed young men between the ages of 14 and 24. If we find a 20 year old Black man robbed and beaten to death outside a late-night club, who should the police be looking for? Should they concentrate their limited resources on investigating 80 year old Asian ladies who attend church in the neighborhood, or un-employed young men who hang out at, or around late-night clubs? Who is the more likely suspect in a residential burglary: teenage girls wearing glasses, or boys who cut classes and wear gangster fashions, or a slick professional second-story man known to be a jewel thief? Who peddles drugs on street corners?

Should law enforcement be looking for Black person, or an older radicalized White male after the bombing of a church attended mostly by Black people? Who is more likely to carry a bomb onto an airliner: a blond, blue-eyed woman carrying a screaming baby, or a swarthy young man who nervously keeps checking his one-way ticket to New York?

Most serial killers tend to be white, middle-aged to older, males who are loners. Men who feel that they have been dealt with wrongly by society, or women. They may be intelligent, but their educational attainments are as sparse as their material success in the world. They tend to angry men who need to feel that they are in control. So after identifying a string of similar serial murders across six states, who should we be looking for? A teenage wannabe gangsta, or a drifter who drives a beat-up older model car?

Profiling is to use our common sense and experience to focus limited resources on those within cohorts most likely to contain the person(s) we want to identify and catch.

Not all people within any cohort are guilty of anything, much less the crime we are trying to solve or prevent. If we identify a cohort that has within it 1000 individuals, but only one guilty person, the chancess are that perhaps a 999 people may fall under suspicion before we find our prey. The larger the cohort and smaller the number of those we seek, the greater the probability that more innocents will pass under suspicion.

If you belong to a cohort that will draw suspicion, what can you do about it? Don't act suspicious. If you are a young man who dresses like a gangster and hangs out around places where trouble is common don't be surprised if the police stop and question you. If you are a young Muslim man be careful of who you associate with, and be patient when those around you get nervous at your presence.

Probably the question of fairness is better than whether profiling is "good" or "bad". Often it sure seems unfair to those who must suffer the suspicion drawn by the behavior a few who are in the same cohort. Not all Southerners are, or ever were, racists, but anyone living in Mississippi who has traveled outside the South can tell a tale or two. Not all young Muslim men are radicals who want to kill and destroy Western Civilization, but they will be regarded with suspicion so long as Muslims dance in the streets with joy at every murderous attack on the United States. Sorry, I know that is unfair to most folks in the cohort, but it is a fact of life.
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Letty
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 12:48 pm
Exactly, Asherman. Fair or unfair is more appropriate.
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rosborne979
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 01:13 pm
Asherman wrote:
Profiling is neither "good' nor "bad", it is just the way things are.


I agree with most of Asherman's post, but I would add the following:

I think the good or bad of profiling depends on the motivation behind it. If the motivation is to harass groups just because you don't like them, then it's bad. But if it's a prudent response to an observed statistical group behavior, then I think it's not only a normal behavior, but necessary.
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stuh505
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 02:01 pm
Asherman,

thanks for posting all that. I was going to try to say the same thing...but I probably would have somehow offended someone while you managed to say it elegantly.
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ebrown p
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 02:12 pm
Bull to Asherman and rosborne! (and I mean that in the most respectful way possible but this logic justifies injustice and really gets under my skin.)

There is no prudent response here. It is not prudent to judge my son on the color of his skin. He dresses the same as his white peers. He has the same upbringing and the same values.Yet he is singled out.

And this "observed statistical group behavior" is just a fancy word for prejudice. There is no "rational" process going on here. People aren't doing anything mathematical at all. In general, people aren't rational. This is just a emotional irrational response to fear.

Are you really suggesting that these shopkeepers have done studies to see how color and clothes affect the likelyhood of theft? Do you think they base their actions on anything more than what they were taught, and what they see on TV? Do you think this is a "rational" basis for treating someone rudely?

As a very white teenager, I shoplifted at times. I guess I should have felt lucky that the color of my skin combined with the shopkeepers "rational" prejudice made it unlikely that I would be suspected (or caught).

Sure, prejudice is human nature. It comes from our history of tribalism. This does not make it right. Rape is human nature. Murder is human nature. So what!

The fact is that racial profiling hurts. It hurts Latinos, Blacks and now especially Middle Easterners.

But I am really pissed because it hurts my son. Don't ask me to accept this as a fact of life or anything else.
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Letty
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 02:22 pm
ebrown, I think you misread. That always happens to me. Let's take for instance, the highway patrol who pulls over someone simply because of their color with no probable cause. That's prejudice.

Let's say, for the sake of exploring, that security guards in a mall have received a tip that there is a threat of possible attacks. At that point, everyone is suspect; however, if your son is continually watched because of his dark skin, then you damn well need to talk to the management and get things straight.
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fortune
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 02:42 pm
As I am not an expert on this I must ask the question, is there a difference between racial profiling and profiling in general?
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Asherman
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 02:42 pm
Individuals are indeed driven by their prejudices, and those prejudices are often based more on unthinking conformity than to reason. I probably condemn prejudice just as vehemently has you do. The behavior of individuals, prejudicial or not, is not what I would refer to as "profiling".

Profiling is a tool used by law enforcement agencies to focus their investigations onto the most likely suspects. Are individual police officers guilty of prejudice? Sure, some are and others not. Patrol officers know their beats, and they look for anything that is out of place. A white teenager in convertible cruising a Black neighborhood is just as suspicious as a Black teenager cruising a White neighborhood. Good Patrol officers will stop and question both, carefully and cautiously. When a detective is called to investigate a burglary, he know both from experience and from training which cohorts tend to do that particular type of burglary. There are extremely skilled profilers who work for major police agencies, the Federal Government and the Intelligence community. Professional profilers are very careful to avoid letting personal prejudice enter into their analysis.

Of course, everyone and their favorite hunting dog thinks that they are able to identify by group those most likely to commit crimes. Sometimes they are very wrong. The shopkeeper who failed to identify the young you as a potential shoplifter, is a pretty example. The more knowledgable shopkeeper would be carefully watching every teenager, and perhaps the watch over teenage girls around the makeup counter should be watched ever more. On the other hand, you don't need to be an expert to understand that young Muslim men have so far been responsible for almost all of the terrorism against the United States, and that a large part of the Muslim world applaud their actions. I should think that anyone would be nervous to be an an airplane with a nervous young Muslim who has a one-way ticket to New York.

Again, the suspicion that falls on people within a cohort may not be fair. Most of the people within almost any identifiable cohort will be innocent of any wrong. I can understand their feeling unfairly suspected. I know that I feel wronged (a 60+ retired White man of obvious means) when airport security spends a half hour shaking me down, while letting a young man of apparently Middle-Eastern ethnicity walk straight through the checkpoint and onto the airplane. Unfair. Unfair, is a common thing in this life and we have to learn to live with it.

What is the alternative? Would you have every person equally under suspicion for every crime? When a person is "out of place", should the police look the other way and wait for you to report the crime? We can not "ban" what people think, but we can insist that the rule of law be followed ... and we do.
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Asherman
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 02:49 pm
Yes, there is a difference between "Racial Profiling" and "Profiling". However, the two often merge into one another. Strictly speaking profiling is the art and science of analysing criminal behavior to develop the most likely suspects. That might involve identifying a cohort based on cultural/ethnic/religous, or "racial" parameters. "Racial Profiling" is more often refering to identifying a crime with a single racial/ethnic cohort to the exclusion of any evidence that doesn't support that conclusion.
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fortune
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 02:52 pm
Urgh, I almost wish I hadn't asked.
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Asherman
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 02:54 pm
Why not ask for clarification? Is my explanation unclear?
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fortune
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 03:00 pm
No, it's clear. I was merely expressing my distaste for a process which defies logic so completely. I can understand the usefulness of profiling, it is entirely sensible to wish to have every available tool at your command when seeking a criminal, but to decide that one group of people is more prone to commit a certain crime simply because of their ethnicity is just plain ridiculous.
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extra medium
 
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Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 03:02 pm
I don't care for profiling. In an ideal world, it would not happen. But in the real world we live in today, I see it a bit as a necessary evil. Used judiciously, it can help authorities prevent or solve crimes. It is a tool that can be used intelligently or abused by authorities. I would hope authorities use the tool judiciously. I hope authorities that abuse the tool are prosecuted.

Here's a strange anomaly I've found recently:

In discussions with various friends, I'll ask them if they believe authorities should engage in profiling? Standard answer is usually "No."

But then, when I ask: "Say you are boarding a plane with your family, and there are a few middle-easterners/Muslims boarding also. Would you like the authorities to check them any more closely than the white grandmothers who are boarding the plane, or should everyone be treated precisely the same?"

It's amazing how many of my friends (even leftist liberals) will say: "Yes, go ahead! Check the middle-easterners more closely. I have no problem with that."

Interesting to note that some of these people saying its okay to profile the middle-easterners would be quite offended if police profiled them due to their appearance (former long-haired hippies, various races, single older white males, etc.)

So there it is. When you board a plane with your family, do you want everyone treated & checked precisely the same? That is, however closely (or not closely) the authorities scrutinize the middle-easterner, that is how closely they'll scrutinize you, your children, and every grandmother that boards, regardless of disability, etc.

We can't have it both ways. We can't say..."Don't profile me...but its okay to profile them."

Which way are we going to have it? Profile all of us when appropriate, or profile none of us?

Or profile only some of us, as long as it doesn't offend you, personally?

If we do not wish to be profiled, then we cannot ask authorities to profile anyone else. We must treat grandmothers the same as Muslims the same as children. Where do you draw the line?
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fortune
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Aug, 2004 03:08 pm
extra-medium, to that I would say: should middle easterners be checked more thoroughly while US forces are in Iraq and the middle east, or should they be held under suspicion indefinitely because, as everyone knows, middle easterners are more prone to high-jacking plains, it's just what they do.

(None of the above is intended to reflect my personal opinions)
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