Thursday, August 17, 2006

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, Tx 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 shaven 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 India.Mumbai
(AsiaNews/Agencies) – Leaders of the world’s largest Hindu organisation have threatened to "repeat Gujarat" against Muslims in India unless the government ensures that the perpetrators of the Mumbai 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.

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 Hamas and Hezbollah, and to the local YMM creating problems in other countries in the world.

Tweet This!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that what does not help YMMs is that, for the most part, members of the Muslim community have not come out to denounce the egregious crimes that terrorists commit.

Call it profiling, to me it is just plain statistics.

1:21 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

A show called Inside Edition is on just before Jeopardy! in my area. They had a special last week on how to spot a terrorist, and it was all about "suspicious" activity, which they never clearly defined. It sounded more harmful than anything to me.

I've watched Criminal Minds a few times. They almost invariably say they are looking for a white male in his 20's or 30's. This doesn't bother anyone. But if you're looking for an Arab male in his 20's or 30's, this is a problem? The question, for me, is how far you're taking it. When you have a serial killer, you don't abuse and interrogate every white male in the age group. So when you have a terrorist, you shouldn't abuse and interrogate every Arab male in the age group. But that doesn't mean you should waste time abusing and interrogating people that don't fit the profile, either.

1:42 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Yes, devo, it is nothing but statistics. If those who profile simply pointed this out I think YMM would have less reason to bitch about being singled out. As I said, if they are unhappy, take it up with the YMM terrorists.

8:36 AM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

"you wouldn't be able to get on TV period, and this is the crux of the matter."
Why in the hell is that the crux of the matter? The issue is what he's talking about, not whether he would be able to say it in the context of his hypothetical. Imagine that someone who can get on TV would say that, and try again.

And I hope in your reference to "other groups" not caring that you are trying to posit that the majority of them don't care, or that they don't care as much, or that they aren't as vocal about it.

11:05 PM

Blogger Habibi said...

What you say is interesting but, for me, as an YSWSN-RG (young Spanish white socialist non-religious gay), it is hard to believe.
We, non-Americans, see what happens in the US through news and movies. What you said of DWB reminded me of the movie "Crash". To be fair, this is a kind of thing I would be very surprised to see in Spain. Even though the amount of Black people in my country is nothing compared to the US (in percentage, of course, remember we are only over 40M people), which could mean that, since we are not so used to see black people in the street, teaching at college or so, should we be more racist than you are? I mean, policemen should?
That's the thing. We have many, and when I say many I mean MANY, YMM in Spain. I guess you have heard the news of the "invasion" we are living lately (although, most of them are sub-Saharan's, i.e.). But, still, even though we have so many clichées of what a YMM, or adult Muslim men or women, should be. But, are they really like that? I have met many Muslims in my life and I can say none of those clichées are the average; of course, there are YMM drug dealers, but, they aren't the highest percentage. Most of them are working people, or guys or girls who are really good at what they do. For example, in my home town we have a European champion in athletics and he is a YMM.
I've seen that "Criminal Minds" a couple of times and, like CSI, I think that can't be so easy. I saw a documentary about the real CSI and had nothing in common with the series, so I guess the Criminal Minds' Investigators have nothing in common either with those in the series.
I don't like clichées, I think they're stupid. Just because I am a YGM, oh, and single, does this mean I have to be a queer? Does this mean that I have to sleep around? Does this mean that I am unfaithful? Oh, yeah. But, hey, I'm not. I don't buy expensive clothes and all those things that "we" think gay people do.
So, what I want to say is that we should never take anything for granted.

BTW, there are other terrorist groups in Europe. And there were. In Catalonia, for example, "we" had Terra LLiure.
Ah, and ETA is on a peace process. And, also BTW, even though the Prime Minister of France says ETA has nothing to be with France, it does. Euskadi has par of its territory in France. And, I tell you, one day it won't be France anymore. But, I think is even more dangerous that the supposed king or prince of Navarre (Fr) wants to get back the lands of Navarra (Sp) that lost to the King of Spain a few centuries ago.

7:07 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

habibi, if you are arguing against me, I am not sure why. I advocate the use of profiling as a way of narrowing down suspects in terrorist investigations. Right now I would START with YMM but as I said, stopping with that group would leave one with way too many suspects. The profiling would have to be much more precise to be of any probative value.

I don't know where MI5 et al in the UK started with their investigation of YMM citizens but it was obviously the right place since they seem to have just the right sort of evidence to convict -- wire taps, bomb making supplies, martyrdom tapes, etc. I am not an expert terrorist profiler and so have nothing to contribute to how to profile YMM who are terrorists and I suspect my fellow citizens do not either and that is why I said we citizens should do no profiling of YMM at all and though I didn't actually say this I implied that we should treat them the way we treat anyone else. Of course, people are flawed and they are going to be suspicious of YMM whether they deserve it or not.

You may be right that France will have a Basque ETA problem. They certainly have Basques.

Your comment that you have star athletes that are YMM. That does not prove they are fully accepted. Zidane helped France win a World Cup and he is a YMM. Le Pen said the French team that won did not look French to him. A good look at this year's French team would surely have made him even more upset for there was hardly a "pure French" face to be found.

9:10 AM

Blogger Habibi said...

Sorry if I seemed to be arguing with you. I was just giving my opinion, isn't that what we all do in blog?
What I was trying to say is that you are right in the fact that we (common people) should not ever profile anyone as we all would be wrong as we don't really know how it really works. But, anyway, the guys of the bombs of London last year were absolutely off the profile.
And, yes, you are right. Even though the guy in my town is considered as from my town, in brackets, people alwasys says he is a Moroccan.

10:08 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I see three young hispanic guys coming towards me wearing tank tops and with tatoos all over their bodies I will profile and proceed to get the hell out of there. Sorry if that makes me a racist. I much rather be called that than be mugged.

My profiling would also extend, on a similar situation, to white guys with shaved heads, and swastikas on their leather jackets.

Whoever will attack my position, please say why it is wrong.

12:30 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home