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Racial profiling

Racial profiling is the use of race as a consideration in suspect profiling or other law enforcement practices.

Advocates are divided on whether race should be:

  • considered if it's statistically significant
  • never considered for any reason at all

While often associated with police procedures, the issue came into the international spotlight because race was included among the factors used by aviation authorities in several countries to attempt to identify potential terrorists and prevent them from boarding airplanes.

Virtually all advocates agree that race ought not to be the only factor in suspect profiling (definition 1). Most would agree that the police should not, for example, pull over only speeders of a particular ethnic group while letting others go.

Some groups say that if a disproportional number of members of a race are, e.g., stopped, searched, or arrested -- compared to the general population or to other races -- it must necessarily be due to discrimination. These groups regard the disproportion as evidence of "racial profiling" and oppose it. They want authorities to reduce the disproportion. Some members of this group point out that, even where disproportion is thought to exist in the number of minorities who commit certain crimes, by their very status as "minorities" they usually represent only a fraction of the total number of criminals, and therefore that the concentration of enforcement on minorities represents something other than a desire for police efficiency.

Other groups, in contrast to this view, claim that the disproportion is primarily a result of disproportional behavior by members of certain races. These groups deny that the disproportion is due to "racial profiling" and do not call on police to reduce it.

Including race as one of several factors in suspect profiling (definition 2) is generally supported by the law enforcement community, though there are many notable exceptions. It is claimed that profiling based on any characteristic is a time-tested and universal police tool, and that excluding race as a factor makes no sense. Minorities commit a disproportionate amount of crime, it is claimed, so they get more attention from law enforcement. Proponents claim that suspect profiling that deliberately omits race results in less effective, inefficient law-enforcement.

United States debate on racial profiling

In the United States, the term "racial profiling" has often been paired with accusations of racial discrimination against blacks and Hispanics, particularly by police.

The DEA taught state troopers some common identifying signs of drug couriers:

  1. nervousness;
  2. conflicting information about origin and destination cities among vehicle occupants;
  3. no luggage for a long trip;
  4. lots of cash;
  5. lack of a driver's license or insurance; the spare tire in the back seat;
  6. rental license plates or plates from key source states like Arizona and New Mexico;
  7. loose screws or scratches near a vehicle's hollow spaces, which can be converted to hiding places for drugs and guns.
The agency also shared intelligence about the types of cars that couriers favored on certain routes, as well as about the ethnic makeup of drug-trafficking organizations.

According to some advocates, only the non-racial factors are justified in suspect profiling; police should ignore any ethnic or racial information they have on people involved in the illegal drug trade. These advocates regard the inclusion of racial characteristics, even as one of several factors as "racial profiling" (definition 2) and oppose it.

Organizations such as NAACP and the ACLU are staunchly opposed to "racial profiling". Most crime is committed by whites, they say, and profiling based exclusively on race (definition 1) singles out minorities such as African-Americans and those of Hispanic descent. They also dispute the claim that more crime is committed by minorities. Some also take issue with the police having the prerogative to use race as a factor (definition 2), as this leaves minorities little recourse if unfairly harassed by police.

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack the issue of "racial profiling" has become topical, as the urgency of preventing terrorists from boarding aircraft has again risen. Opponents of the practice of considering the race of terrorist suspects (definition 2) say that the gains made from targeting an ethnic group are not outweighed by the feeling of insecurity that innocent members of that group are subjected to.

A number of incidents involving racial profiling have been reported and denounced as grave human rights violations, such as Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was deported to Syria while changing planes in New York.

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