Racial profiling refers to any use of race, religion, ethnicity or national origin by laws enforcement as a means of deciding who should be investigated. With this in mind, it is important to note that although overt racism is philosophically opposed in this country, many laws regarding police scrutiny based solely on race exist today. Yet selective enforcement, a much more subtle concept, allows plenty of racial profiling to still exist. Before the 9/11 attacks, many minorities claimed that they received and unfair amount of police scrutiny based on their race. In the late 1990’s, the term “Driving while Black” became a buzzword in the U.S., representing the idea that the majority of drivers who were stopped were Black. Data gathered supported this concept, showing that a much higher percentage of Blacks and Latinos who were stopped by the police were searched and patted down by police officers compared to that of white people. So, what changed?
The United States accepted that racial profiling was necessary to protect the interest of national security that triggered the revamping of “traditional” profiling as well as anti-terror profiling, a new phenomenon. This is due to the fact that the fundamental ideology behind each form of profiling. Each form is based on inaccurate stereotypes that connect certain races to specific behaviors or acts. Not all drug dealers or users are of African or Hispanic descent. Similarly, almost no people of Middle Eastern descent are terrorists. Yet the flexible definition of racial profiling allows for legal forms of profiling to exist. There is a fundamental flaw in a program that can legally target one group of people in an attempt to protect the country from terrorism; it speaks volumes to how racial profiling exposes the fragile cracks in the country’s constitutional layout. Racial profiling in the current system is not illegal in every law enforcement agency. The individual biases that come into play due to stereotypes being reinforced on all sides for centuries combined with recent yet poignant events such as 9/11 have blurred the vision on racial profiling and its need to be eliminated that was held pre-September 11 attacks.
It is this hypersensitivity towards terrorism that reinvigorated profiling to a new level, and because profiling is essentially the same on all fronts, the U.S. slowly began to accept that it was necessary to have laws such as “stop and frisk” in order to protect society from unlawful citizens. Yet 84% of the hundreds of stops made in New York City were people of African or Hispanic descent. The major argument supporting traditional profiling is that minorities are more likely to commit street level crimes, again a stereotype mechanism. There are many who will not budge from the “we must protect America ideology” and believe that people who are profiled have to deal with the daily inconveniences for the betterment of the nation.
It is wrong to blame the present state of racial profiling on 9/11. When the United States government enacts programs that specifically target a group of people of a certain race or religion, they are making a statement that it is acceptable to do the same thing to any group of people based on preconceived stereotypes about those groups. These programs cause a rise in race-based regulations and institutional racism, not just for people of Middle Eastern origin but to all minorities who are prone to legal racial profiling. The federal system has to come to the understanding that all forms of racial profiling are unjust and unconstitutional, and there are no benefits to national security when the government instills racist stereotypes into the American people. The 9/11 attacks were truly colorblind. The response to the attacks are institutionally oppressive to all people of color. It is not a matter of inconvenience or national security. It is a matter of fundamental rights being violated on all levels.
—Christopher Brown ’16 is a political science and mathematics double major.