Racial Profiling

The history of the United Stated is abound with stories of racism, from the annihilation of the American Indians, the enslavement of the blacks, formation of the Ku Klux Clan and Neo Nazis to prejudice against all other people of color or nation.  In our most recent history the tragedy of 911 was used to justify racial targeting against people of Arab origin.  But that, as they say, is history. We have after all elected our first African American President.  But has our fight against racism ended  I want to know about the effect of race or ethnicity on law enforcers in apprehending criminals, this is why I chose racial profiling as my topic.

I learned that a law enforcement agent does not only refer to members of the police, it also includes any person engaged in a policing activity whether for a public or private purpose.  This includes security guards at shopping malls, at airports and even recently airline pilots who have ordered passengers off the plane because their ethnicity aroused the pilots suspicions (American Civil Liberties Union, 2005).  This means that racial profiling permeates every aspect of our lives. 

Our law enforcement agencies were created to protect and serve not only those who they believe is of significant color, the whites, or race, but all citizens of our country.  In numerous examples I have read the contrary is being practiced.  I have learned from Randall Kennedy (1998) that racial profiling is not merely using race as the sole basis of apprehending a suspected criminal but also using race as a predictor or indicator of criminality.  This broader definition covers the racially influenced policing by law enforcers (Police Executive Research Forum, 2001). 

Racial profiling also includes discriminatory omissions (American Civil Liberties Union, 2005).  In discriminatory omissions, law enforcers fail to act against whites when they have been accused of committing a crime.  The proliferation of the Ku Klux Klan and their invisibility from criminal prosecution shows that in areas where the group operates law enforcer almost always turn a blind eye to the lynching.  The American Civil Liberties Union reported of an African American man in Maryland who was repeatedly harassed when he moved into a white community while the law enforcers were unresponsive to his reports and complaints.  But when he tried to defend himself from the mob outside his house, he was arrested for firing a warning shot in the air (American Civil Liberties Union, 2005).

I learned that not all instances of racial profiling involve racism some were just the influence of culture and media created stereotypes of a typical criminal on the subconscious of our law enforcers.  The proliferation of movies depicting African Americans and Latinos as gang members and trouble makers helped permeate racial profiling into the minds of the law enforcers.  

I believe that law enforcers may not necessarily be racists when they stopped and beat to death an African American driving a Jaguar in a predominantly white community for tapping his brakes (Godesky, 2005).   Driving While BlackIndianBrown or Asian is not a criminal activity but racial profiling by law enforcers has cost the lives of many innocent citizens.  Law enforcers stop and frisk drivers based not only of their skin color but also, for Indians living in reservations, on regional license plates (American Civil Liberties Union, 2005).    

    Another practice where racial profiling plays a major role is in Terry Stops or criminal suspicion encounters.  Terry stops have often resulted in the death of numerous civilians hailed and harassed by law enforcers.  How can a law enforcer determine whether a person is a criminal element just by looking at him  I believe that simply because a person looks different due to his color, eyes or even clothes, doesnt justify a law enforcers act of stopping and frisking him.  Stopping and frisking doesnt only occur on the roadside but also happens to pedestrians and even shoppers.  Who hasnt heard of cases where minority women were stopped by security guards from shopping malls, suspecting them of stealing, searched and humiliated only because of their ethnicity or clothes 

    I have noted that the State Attorney Generals Report of New York City Police Departments Stop and Frisk practices showed that racial profiling was rampant and pervasive.  Blacks comprised 25.6 of the population yet 50.6 of the stops were made against them.  Hispanics comprised 23.7 of the Citys population yet 33 of the stops were made against Hispanics.  The whites comprising the biggest portion of the population at 43.4 only accounted for 12.9 of the stops.  The blacks comprised 62.7 of the stops made by the NYPD Street Crimes Unit (SCU) (American Civil Liberties Union, 2005).      I wonder how many of those stops actually resulted in apprehension of the real criminals. 

I learned that Terry stops are also often defined by law enforcers with investigatory stops or investigative detentions.  Ive read that investigative detentions is literally briefly detaining someone for the purpose of conducting on-the-scene investigation of some suspected unlawful (although not necessarily criminal) behavior (Susswein, 2005).  Any seizure of any unlawful element from such stop would be excluded unless it is proved by the law enforcer that the seizure was reasonably related in scope to the initial reason for the stop (Terry vs Ohio, 1968).  A violation of the Fourth Amendment results in the failure of the law enforcer to satisfy the required quantum of proof.  The evidence seized from illegal searches and seizures are deemed excluded for being the fruit of the poisonous tree. 

    I believe that the practice of racial profiling is the most significant issue that law enforcers are facing today.  The results of racial profiling  includes the alienation of law abiding citizens, the invocation of the exclusionary rule,  civil suits against law enforcers and their departments, limitations on the authority of law enforcers to conduct investigations, the loss of public support and valuable sources of intelligence information and the advent of de-policing  (Susswein, 2005)

    When law abiding citizens in the community are alienated from the police, law enforcers are deprived of a mass base from which to gather support against criminal activity and information about criminal activities in the area.  This alienation can lead to bias against the law enforcers by minority citizens.  Expecting the law enforcer to be practising racial profiling, some of those who are stopped, either fight or flee from them.  This is risky for both the law enforcer and the civilian.  Fleeing is seen as a sign of guilt and the civilian is in danger of being killed.  

    Racial profiling can be raised to exclude physical evidence of incriminating statements.  The dismissal of the case or conviction based on plea bargaining tend to frustrate police officers who have worked hard to apprehend the factually guilty criminals.  Some police officers are now reluctant in doing their jobs and going after criminals because they dont want to be accused of racial profiling.  They grow timid and thus the advent of de-policing (Department of Criminal Justice, 2005).  Instead of apprehending criminals the police turn their heads the other way.  I dont know whether to be thankful that law enforcers are now timid because of their awareness of th impact of racial profiling or to lament that the police are using avoidance of racial profiling as an excuse not to apprehend criminals. 

I find the New Jersey Racial Profiling Policy encouraging when it stated that except when an officer is trying to determine whether an individual matches the physical description in a B.O.L.O. (Be On the Lookout), or is pursuing specific leads in an ongoing criminal investigation, a police officer in this State may not consider a persons race or ethnicity as a factor in deciding whether that person may be involved in criminal activity, or in deciding how to treat that person. Unless an officer is responding to a suspect-specific or investigation-specific B.O.L.O. situation, a persons race or ethnicity may play no part in the exercise of police discretion (Department of Criminal Justice, 2005).
I believe that Terry Stops are legal provided that indeed the law enforcer observed that another person is behaving in a criminally suspicious manner.  Before a law enforcer even decides to consider a person to be criminally suspect he must first also consider answering the question, if the suspect were white would he still find the behavior criminally suspicious  Criminals may only be prosecuted based on their unlawful acts and not on their skin, race or ethnicity.  A person may fit the stereotype of a criminal but stereotypes dont win convictions.

With the New Jersey Race Profiling Policy, I think law enforcers will be more effective.  Law enforcement agencies must rely on their profiling skills in apprehending suspected criminals.  When they do conduct investigatory stops or investigative detentions they do so based on information and circumstances that they have gathered.  Race or ethnicity can only be taken in consideration in instances where the Be on the Lookout (B.O.L.O) description specifically states the race or ethnicity of the suspect.  This will eliminate not only the harassment of law abiding citizens but also cut the unnecessary workload of the law enforcers.  They will no longer waste their time stopping and frisking every colored man or woman they suspect which will also give them more time in pursuing the real suspects based on specific information that they have gathered.

I hope to see in the future that Driving While BlackBrownIndianAsian will no longer be an issue.  I would also like to find out if indeed New Jerseys Racial Profiling Policy is effective.   Has racial profiling cases decreased in New Jersey  Are there other states with similar Racial Profiling Policy  I would like to do a comparison of racial profiling policies of other states and determine their effectiveness.  I also would like to determine which methods work better in applying racial profiling policies.


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