Racial Profiling is an enduring and deeply troubling problem of the nation despite statements that the United States has moved on from the racial era. It still occurs every day, sometimes hidden from the attention of the general public and the media. In cities and towns across the country, there are still instances when law enforcement and private security target and single out people of color for humiliating and traumatizing detentions, interrogations, and warrantless searches or without evidence of criminal activity and often based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. Racial profiling is patently illegal. It goes against and violates the U.S. Constitution’s core promises of equal protection under the law to all and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. Just as importantly, racial profiling is counter-productive. It distances communities from law enforcement, hampers community policing efforts, and causes law enforcement to lose reliability and trust among the people they are sworn to serve and protect.
We rely on the police and law enforcement agencies to uphold peace, security, and promote fairness and justice in our communities. But racial profiling has caused numerous people, especially the ethnic minority to live in fear of being suspected for criminal activities simply because of what they look like, where they come from, or what religion they adhere to.
Racial profiling affects many different communities of color. A history of more than 2 centuries of slavery and almost a century of legalized racial segregation eventually led to the systemic profiling of blacks in traffic and pedestrian stops. Since the event of September 11, 2001, members of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities have been profiled by airline personnel, federal law enforcement, and local police.
Although we must admit that there are threats to our national security that are carried out by extremist individuals or groups, they do not necessarily represent the ethnicity, or worse the country they belong to. The most recent example of racial profiling came from US president Trump’s declaration of banning immigrants from 7 countries believed to be hubs of terrorism and terrorist activities. This caused a nationwide public outcry about the unfair branding of the predominantly middle-eastern countries as terrorists and national threats. It caused undue classification of nations practicing and following the religion of Islam as potential threats and nations with a history of terrorism. Not only did this adversely affect the Islamic communities across the United States, this policy once again stirred the inconvenient anti-immigration sentiment of less race tolerating individuals. The anti-immigrant stance made by the current government is a matter of great concern to different colored and ethnic communities.
Law enforcement agencies rely on statistical data when profiling high-risk communities and individuals. Although statistics can provide reliable numbers and credible information about certain aspects of a community, it should not be something to be overly relied upon. Just because black and Latino/Hispanic communities have higher statistical data when it comes to occurrences of crimes and community disturbance, it does not equate to having more frequent raids, searches and arrests on individuals who belong to these race brackets. Law enforcement activities should not be premised on the erroneous assumption and statistical interpretation that individuals of a particular race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion are more prone to likely to engage in certain types of unlawful conduct than are individuals of another race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.
However, in fairness to our law enforcers, it should not be considered as racial profiling if law enforcement authorities rely on these personal characteristics as part of a subject description or in connection with an investigation if there is reliable information that links a person of a particular race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion to a specific incident, scheme, or organization. This is a case where law enforcement can effectively carry out their jobs by narrowing down their search to certain individuals based in the reliable information they received.
Racial profiling is still a sensitive issue even though we proclaim that we are now in the “post-race era”. We still have a lot of work to do when it comes to investigative procedures in law enforcement. There should be revisions on not to solely use race as a factor in decisions about who to stop, detain, question, or subject to other investigative procedures. A truly peaceful, safe and harmonious community can be achieved if there is no racial bias in enforcing the law.