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One of the tenets of our system of jurisprudence is the concept of equal justice under the law. This concept basically means that Lady Justice is blind to all that appear before her and that there is an expectation that very citizen will be free from arbitrary and capricious treatment under the law and that very citizen will have the same standing under the law. Another bedrock principle of our legal system is the concept of being innocent until proven guilty. Although there are caveats and nuances in the application of these principles, the general principle has continued to have effect in our national conscience.

However when we look at the practice known as racial profiling, we quickly see that the country has not lived up to its lofty pronouncements. Simply put, racial profiling allows for the scrutiny of an entire race of people under the guise of rooting out supposed crime. In most cases this phenomena has been associated with the "war on drugs". Persons are detained on the street, in cars, airplanes and railroad cars simply because they "fit the profile".

In routine criminal investigations, a particular crime has been committed and a victim has identified a suspect. That alleged perpetrator’s demographic information is catalogued by the police authorities who then forward the profile to the rank and file street officer. An all points bulletin is circulated to assist in the apprehension of the suspect. In this case the racial identity of the suspect is important in solving the case, just as the individual’s gender, age, weight, height, etc. Few could argue against the arbitrariness of such information. But in the case of racial profiling there are several distinctions at work. First, when it comes to racial profiling associated with drug interdiction on the nation’s highways and byways, it is not often that a particular, identifiable crime has occurred. In other words, no particular crime of drug possession and flight from authorities has occurred. There is usually no specific individual that the police are on the lookout for, and so the profile developed is faulty or weak at best and racist at worst.

There are arguments that have been made that racial minorities are the primary actors in the illegal drug business, but there are few credible studies that back this up. There is little argument that the majority per capita of those arrested and imprisoned are African-American and Hispanic males, but this statistic may only prove that most of the scrutiny and resources are directed at that population. It reminds me of the saying "To a hammer, everything looks like a nail". It is more likely that drug use and possession are at high rates across all racial groups in this country, among young adults in urban and rural setting. By way of comparison, the proliferation of methamphetamine usage has now been acknowledged as a national health crisis worthy of attention, but it has not resulted in the same type of hyper scrutiny, as has the cocaine and marijuana market. In fact some consider the use of methamphetamine, oxycotin, ecstasy, etc as health issues more than a criminal issue

It is worth noting that historically in this country, there has always been an element of racial profiling as it relates to African-Americans. Slave codes clearly delineated the behaviors, which were lawful and acceptable. After the abolishment of slavery, most states passed laws, black codes, which differed only slightly from their predecessor. There were laws limiting reading, voting, right to own property, even "reckless eyeballing". It is a short leap from this type of second-class citizenship under the law to the dehumanizing practice of racial profiling. Once society has previously circumscribed your citizenship rights, it is not difficult to continue the practice prospectively. There is evidence in documented studies that Blacks and other minorities are less likely to challenge the police when there is a request or demand to a search, even when the officer has no probable cause for the search. Either fear or ignorance of the law may play a part in the willingness to readily surrender constitutional rights so easily.

Whatever the reason, racial minorities may unwittingly be complicit in allowing profiling to continue. When police are successful in drug searches, even when the traffic stop may not be sound legally, their success motivates them to make more of the same types of stops, in the same neighborhoods, involving the same types of "suspects." A more important, unanswered question may be, how many larger fish escape the same scrutiny due solely to the racial discrimination of the police?




REASON * August-September 2001 The Roots of Racial Profiling

By Gene Callahan and William Anderson

ENTERTAINMENT * February 2006 Jackson puts racial profiling experience into FreedomlandBy Joyce J. Persico

American Civil Liberties Union * Racial Profiling: Old and New