Racial profiling is the use of race as one 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. 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, for example, 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 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.
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" 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 singles out minorities such as African-Americans and those of Hispanic descent. They also dispute the claim that more crime is committed by minorities, because, they say, it has been statistically proven to not be the case. Some also take issue with the police having the perogative to use race as a factor, 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 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. Some point out that Al-Qaida is a religious, not ethnic terrorist organization and therefore racial profiling not only can cause false charging of innocent people, but it can also allow non-Arab Muslims who belong to Al-Qaida or other terrorist groups to get away with terrorism. Some say that once Osama bin Laden realizes that we use racial profiling he'll make his top terrorists non-Arabs. This does leave the country vulnerable to people who do not fit the stereotype.
The debate on racial profiling is also fuelled greatly by incidents that could hypothetically have been prevented had it been practiced to the extreme. For example, some argue that an extreme form of racial profiling towards Arabs could in theory have made authorities aware of those involved in September 11th before it happened, thereby preventing it. Those not wholly opposed to racial profiling would assert that merely a more thorough check of those who would be historically more likely to be involved with airline terrorism and/or hijacking of airplanes would have found some, if not all of the boxcutters that the September 11th hijackers carried, and thereby preventing the hijacking of the planes.
In the UK in the early 1990s evidence showed that black people were as much as five times more likely to be stopped by the police. This is an example of racial profiling. Following this discovery, some police officers claimed that they were too frightened of being accused of racism to stop black suspects, and that the reaction against racial profiling had gone too far and was hindering their ability to do their job.