Ethnic Profiling, The Police, and Us
I neglected the linguistic reason I wanted to blog on this topic so I add it post-publication.
I have been intrigued by the fact that the term "profiling" has positive connotations in one context, but negative in another. FBI serial killer profilers are lionized in the press and numerous fictionalized films and TV shows treat the subject quite positively. "The Silence of the Lambs" is the best movie about profilers. And there is a nice little TV show "Criminal Minds" that features such profilers. However, when applied to the rest of law enforcement, it has a bad reputation.
The issue of profiling continues to come up as members of subgroups that see themselves as victims of profiling complain about it. The earliest example of profiling I ever experienced was examples of vehicles being stopped in Houston, because the driver had committed the offense of DWB, i. e., driving while Black. My Rice psych prof often mentioned on these pages told me of a Black friend teaching at the University of Houston back at the time (in the 50's and 60's) who was very frequently stopped by cops for no reason whatever than that he was Black. This practice will be offensive to any decent American.
In fact, cases of stops for DWB do not constitute instances of actual profiling for legitimate police reasons. They waste police resources and aggravate the Blacks who are stopped. I don't know to what degree cops stop cars for the offense of DWB these days, but I suspect it continues if only at a reduced rate.
These days, Muslims, specifically young, cleanly Muslim men (henceforth YMM) are on the hot seat. Its understandable that citizens of certain countries, as well as the police, are suspicious of YMM. These days, virtually all terrorists, whether they are operating in NYC, London, Madrid, Bali, or India are Muslims. Passions have risen to the point that there have been recent threats of a massacre of Muslims by Hindus in
(repeat Gujarat" against Muslims in India unless the government ensures that the perpetrators of the bombings are swiftly brought to justice.The World Hindu Council demanded that “Hindus be protected from terrorists” who, they believe, are “always Muslims”. However distressing to law-abiding Muslims that police profiling may be, threats like these must be very much more distressing. /Agencies) – Leaders of the world’s largest Hindu organisation have threatened to "
The fact is that when you are looking for terrorists, little old White, Black, and Hispanic ladies will be low on your list of suspects. High on the list will be YMM. If you are a YMM, the burden of proof that you are not a terrorist has, for all practical purposes, been shifted to you. This is a very distressing fact for civil libertarians of all sorts, but especially those who are Muslim. But they can't legitimately ask is "Why are you targeting us?" Since Timothy McVeigh took out the Murray building in Oklahoma City, virtually all of the known active terrorists in the world have been Muslim. The IRA terrorists have been quiet. The Red Brigades are no longer active in Europe. ETA pops up in Spain from time to time blowing up something or assassinating someone but they are not a problem in France or the UK. I am sure there are others but like McVeigh and the IRA and ETA, they are restricted in their scope of operations. Muslims, on the other hand, are striking all over the world.
Given the number of YMM, it would be stupid for police to investigate every one of them. There just aren't enough cops for that. The profile is going to have to be very much more precise to do any good. But it is unlikely that a profile ever be developed that is precise enough to pinpoint all legitimate targets. However, Israel has a program that has kept every El Al jet safe from skyjacking. They use behavioral programing. They question prospective fliers intensively, including asking very personal questions. That is probably not possible in Europe or the US.
But if it would be stupid for police to target all YMM it would be no less stupid for citizens to be suspicious of every YMM or anyone who looks like their idea of a YMM. Indeed, it would be paranoid to do so. This doesn't mean that if one sees a YMM engaging in suspicious behavior (I have no idea what that would be) one should be quiet about it. Report the behavior to the police or airline personnel or whomever seems to be in authority and let them take care of the situation. And then return to your seat, car, or whatever. Lets leave the profiling to the police, FBI, MI5, etc. On the other hand, YMM are simply going to have to accept odd looks from others as a part of daily life for awhile because almost all terrorists are YMM. If they don't like it they should take their complaint to Pakistani terrorists operating in India, to and Hezbollah, and to the local YMM creating problems in other countries in the world.