Racial profiling is the act of using a person’s race or ethnicity as the grounds of suspecting them of an illegal activity. Instead of looking at the actions of the person, a law enforcement official will look at the color of a person’s skin, the way they dress, or some other visual factor to suspect them of having committed a crime of having the potential of doing so soon.
Donald Trump suggested that profiling could be beneficial because of the idea that people in certain groups are more likely to commit certain types of crime in an interview with CBS News in December 2015. New York City has implemented policies such as “stop and frisk” that allowed for personal searches without cause, except because a person “looked” suspicious.
Does such a policy help a society stay safe? Or does racial profiling cause more harm than good? Here are the racial profiling pros and cons to think about.
What Are the Pros of Racial Profiling?
1. It offers the potential of stopping a crime.
When a law enforcement official can stop someone because they suspect that person is up to “no good,” then there is the potential to stop a crime before it starts. An example of this would be to stop and question someone who looks Arabic or may be a practicing Muslim because there is the risk of a terrorist attack occurring soon. It is a practice that may stop mostly innocent people, but it could uncover someone about to commit a crime as well.
2. It can be a practice that is mostly unrestrictive.
Even when the stop and frisk policies were in place in NYC, the event was mostly unrestrictive. A law enforcement official could stop someone and search them on demand, which would take a minute or two to complete. Assuming there weren’t illicit drugs or illegal weapons on the individual, then they could be on their way once again.
3. It offers the potential of reducing crime over the long-term.
When crime can be proactively stopped, then the crime rates for our neighborhoods can be reduced over a longer period. It forces those who would be the most likely to commit a crime to move elsewhere or change their actions because of the higher chances that they’d be stopped before they could accomplish their goals.
4. It can save money.
When an individual fits a specific profile, it becomes easier to know where to look for them. This results in fewer resources being consumed and less time being required by law enforcement to track down leads. Spending less means more money can be put toward community initiatives, pension programs, officer salaries, and other needs that would normally not be addressed.
5. It fits the demographics of crime.
In the United States, people in racial minorities commit crime more often than people in racial majorities. Racial profiling fits the demographics of how crime is committed.
What Are the Cons of Racial Profiling?
1. It violates a person’s individual rights.
Racial profiling is an act of discrimination. There is no getting around this fact. The bias of the law enforcement official is treated as a resource. If that official thinks a person “looks” guilty, then they are treated as being guilty until they can prove their innocence. When people can be stopped because of how they look instead of a violation or crime they have committed, then it restricts the rights of everyone at a core level.
2. There is zero guarantee that a crime will be successfully stopped.
Racial profiling is still just a guess. If there are 100 people in an area and a suicide bomber is known to be one of those people, what would be more effective: looking for someone who looks like a Muslim… or someone who looks nervous, suspicious, and likely to carry out an attack? Darren Osborne committed a vehicular attack in London, killing one and injuring 9, and he was a white man.
3. It can make an entire community feel unsafe.
If you don’t know when or where a law enforcement official may stop you, then how safe do you feel? Would you want to venture out into your community? Or would you rather stay at home, where you know that you are reasonably safe? Racial profiling can make everyone feel unsafe because it creates division. The people being profiled feel unsafe because they do not know how an official will react if they suspect a crime. The people not being profiled feel unsafe because they’re told that people not like them could hurt them.
4. It can cost a lot of money.
Although an accurate profile can save money, an inaccurate profile can be quite costly. Imagine looking for a black man when it is really an Asian man who plans to commit a crime. Racial profiling can create an all-or-nothing scenario. You either recognize a threat by a specific community and pull the entire community into questioning to stop a crime or you miss that person because the wrong community was targeted. A miss not only costs financial resources, but the crime will still likely take place at the same time.
5. Racial profiling can lead to other types of profiling.
Once racial profiling is accepted by a society, it opens the door to other types of profiling under the justification that it may stop a crime. Religion, sexual preference, and gender identity are common forms of profiling that occur outside of racial profiling and this enhances all the negatives that such a practice brings to a community.
6. It dictates the actions of an officer before any action occurs.
According to The Leadership Conference, a black/African-American driver in the US will be arrested 4.5% of the time during a traffic stop. Whites will be arrested 2.1% of the time. Whites are twice more likely to receive a verbal warning when pulled over compared to a racial minority. Blacks/African-Americans are three times more likely to be searched during a police stop. When a personal bias can be present, it dictates how someone will react before they can even evaluate the situation.
7. It is ineffective.
Vanity Fair reports that Chicago Police Department data shows that Black/African-American and Hispanic drivers were searched 4 times more often than white drivers, but white drivers were found to have contraband on them twice as often compared to those in a racial minority.
These racial profiling pros and cons show that the idea of being able to stop a potential crime is more important than the reality of stopping crime. Although crime statistics often show that racial minorities commit more crime than racial majorities, holding every person responsible for the actions of a few is not how justice works. Guilt should never be assumed.