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According to Muffler (2006) racial profiling is the practice of targeting individuals for police or security interdiction, detention, or other disparate treatment based primarily on their race or ethnicity, in the belief that certain minority groups are more likely to engage in unlawful behavior. This leads to a bias against certain ethnic groups who continually face harassment such as traffic stops and random searches. Unfortunately, some individuals are still in denial that this practice still occurs. It is this denial or bias that has made it difficult for restrictive legislation to be enacted. It is however improper to insinuate that no steps have been made to outlaw the practice as there are certain indicative steps which point at concerted effort to eliminate the practice. In the following part of this discussion we look at the origin, ills and effects of the practice as well as any efforts to bring to an end a practice which has characterized our criminal profiling.
Origin of racial profiling
Racial profiling is as old as U.S. history the only difference over the years has been the target groups. Ever since pre independence days individuals have looked at certain groups as more likely to get involved in crime. This has led to an unconscious or even at times conscious bias against these racial groups. This has left a very thin line between racial profiling and racism. According to Orr (2009) racism is a belief that race determines behavior, and racism usually incorporates a mind-set that one race is better than another. It is this definition that links racism with racial profiling as the latter is based on people’s appearance and origin.
As noted in the previous paragraph we cannot trace the origin of racial profiling without examining the roots of racism, roots that date back to slavery days. Slavery was basically use of African Americans as laborers with no regard to their fundamental human rights. The extent of slavery is well illustrated by the Commonwealth of Virginia Casual Slave Act enacted in 1669 which indirectly gave slave owners permission to kill them if deemed necessary (Orr, 2009). It is believed that mistreatment and killing of slaves continued unchallenged until 1831 when Nat Turner a slave reiterated with several others and killed 60 whites. This led to the first recorded racial profiling as whites killed about 250 blacks irrespective of whether they were part of Turner’s group or not, the bottom line was they were blacks.
Besides the slavery days racial profiling has always been imminent during times of war. During these times people create an image of a common enemy and anyone of this race is deemed an enemy ignoring all other facts such as citizenship or participation. An example of this is the aftermath of WWI. During this time there was a predominant fear of communism. People feared that Germans and Russians would take over and even blamed them of continuous bomb attacks. This led to suspicion of any American who was of German or Russian decent. The then Attorney General Mitchell Palmer quickly constituted an intelligence group which concluded that these individuals were a threat to national security. Based on these conclusions raids were instituted across U.S cities targeting these individuals who were arrested and detained without trial. Even though most of them were released a sizeable number of them were deported based on their country of birth.
The other incident worth pointing at in trace of racial profiling is the Pearl Harbor attacks of 1941. These infamous attacks led to destruction of American war ships which sent a shock wave to the entire nation. Unfortunately, this shock wave quickly became anger directed to Japanese who were responsible for these attacks. Whether based on patriotism or prejudice Americans became suspicious of Japanese, the climax of this was Congressman John Rankin of Mississippi rant in 1942 “do not forget than once Japanese always Japanese. It is vital that we get rid of every Japanese” following this Japanese camps were set up by the military. They later rounded up all Japanese and put them in these camps which lacked basic amenities. An astounding fact was that 70 % of these Japanese were born In U.S. and the Munson report released on November 1941 indicated all of them were loyal to United States (Orr, 2009). This was an unfortunate step to take and was later on renamed a “national mistake” by the incumbent Gerald Ford. Further redress was made by Ronald Reagan in 1988 who signed HR 442, the civil Liberties Act, to provide $ 1.65 billion to Japanese Internees who were still living (Orr, 2009).
Recent issues on racial profiling
A look at the above cases of racial profiling indicates a very close relationship between the practice, racism and war. We are able to link racial profiling with racism and the particular increase during times of war or instability which fuels a bias against a certain race. Besides these detailed cases the aftermath of September 11 attacks saw most Americans develop distrust towards Islam or in general people of Asian origin. These circumstances make it difficult to come up with definitive measures against racial profiling. In the case that laws are enacted banning the practice the masses still carry the notion of some races posing greater danger to them as compared to others. Therefore it is important to realize that beside legislation concerted efforts to eradicate the old age mentality must be made. These should lay emphasis on law enforcers who are more likely than not to perpetuate the ill practice. In the following part we look at government’s efforts to bring to an end racial profiling, we also briefly look at the effectiveness of these legislations if made in stopping the vice.
Efforts towards ending racial profiling
There have been considerable efforts to end racial profiling in United States. These have come inform of redress as well as attempted legislation. One form of redress was President’s Reagan signing of HR 442 Civil Liberties Act which provided $1.65 billion to Japanese who had been forced out of their homes and businesses in 1942 (Orr, 2009). Though most of them had already passed on or had since returned to their native land this was an effort by the government and went a long way in indicating that the government was willing to address racial profiling.
In terms of legislation two main Acts have been formulated which indicates government commitment towards ending racial profiling. The first was the Racial Profiling Act of 2001 during President’s Bush reign. This was aimed at outlawing racial profiling and provided for redress through civil courts where one felt aggrieved, unfortunately enactment of this Act was watered down by the occurrence of 9/11. A similar version of Acts was introduced in 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2009 in all these instances the Act was not enacted (The End Racial Profiling Act of 2010 by The nation’s premier civil & human rights coalition).
The other is The End Racial Profiling Act of 2010 which is the latest attempt to outlaw the practice. It may seem like lack of commitment from the government side but there are certain positives from these Acts. The main one is the acknowledgement that the practice is indeed existent and needs to end. It is important for the incumbent to lobby congress to enact the Act as this will ensure objective profiling and will help protect the minority groups.
Even though the efforts have been there we are yet to point out at the effectiveness of these Acts as they are yet to have the legal muscle. We can only reap if these formed part of our laws as the people and more importantly the law enforcers will feel obligated to shun racial profiling. We cannot close our eyes to the fact that these Acts have failed to go through congress mainly due to proponents of racial profiling. These in most cases feel that racial profiling will water down efforts towards fighting terrorism. Therefore it is important for us to examine whether racial profiling is in deed justifiable.
Is racial profiling justifiable?
The truth is there are a myriad of reasons provided by officers and proponents of profiling to justify the practice. Unfortunately, there is little evidence to support the use of racial profiling (Thompson, 2008). Thompson (2008) cites the findings in Pennsylvania which noted that contrary to general belief that minorities are more likely to carry contraband the opposite is in deed true. In the report it is noted that officers found “contraband” twice as much in white drivers as compared to African Americans. These findings were confirmed by a 1999 survey by the Department of Justice. This simply shows that racial profiling is not justifiable and in any case it is a bias towards the minority
It is apparent that racial profiling is a rampant issue in United States, an issue which seems to be castigated by human conflict and criminal activities such as war and terrorism. It is also closely linked to racism and the latter is actually thought to be the main reason why racial profiling is rampant among our officers. It is important to note that it is not justifiable and in several occasions the federal government has realized this and attempted to help those affected. Unfortunately, the walk has not been as long as the talk and the most crucial efforts mainly the legislation of various Acts outlawing the practice has not been made by the government. The policies have also not adequately addressed the problem. As Gaines & Kappeler (2011) note we will not see the end of racial profiling for as long as the necessary departments do not issue policies prohibiting racial profiling. Other actions as noted by Gaines & Kappeler (2011) are offering officers in-service training about racial profiling and offering necessary training on objective profiling. It is not until these efforts are made and indeed actualized will we see an end or at least a proper address of this practice which continually characterize our policing.