Racial profiling has become one of the most contentious issues, post 9/11. A vast majority of people think of it as a necessary measure against terrorism, while minorities and human rights organizations deride it for being against the right to equality.
“…there’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.” – Barack Obama
Amnesty International USA defines racial profiling as the targeting of individuals and groups by law enforcement officials, even partially, on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion, except where there is trustworthy information, relevant to the locality and time frame, that links persons belonging to one of the aforementioned groups to an identified criminal incident or scheme.
In simpler terms, racial profiling can be described as the practice of increased surveillance on the members of a particular community or race. Although racial profiling has been conducted overtly and covertly for a long time, it has become a major issue in the US and Europe since the 9/11 terrorist attack. Before 9/11, legal enforcers targeted mainly African-Americans and Hispanics on suspicion of drug trafficking and immigration. But today, Arabs and South-Asians are being profiled increasingly at airports and on the streets, allegedly, as a preventive measure against terrorism.
Although the US government has time and again made it clear that racial profiling is wrong and intolerable, the ground reality is that it is being carried out everyday in different parts of America. Amnesty International, the global human rights watchdog, frequently receives complaints from minorities about being treated unfairly.
Perception Towards Racial Profiling
One of the important things to note, is that, there has been a marked change in the perception of Americans towards racial profiling. Before 9/11, around two-thirds of Americans wanted profiling to stop completely, because of the alleged human rights abuse associated with it. However, after the attacks, public opinion has changed completely, and only one-third of Americans are in favor of ending racial profiling. This marked change in the public perception towards profiling has made it difficult for human rights organizations to find support for their demand of enacting tougher anti-profiling laws. Although many Americans accept the fact that profiling is unjust, they support it because they feel that it is necessary for national security. Proponents of profiling also say that they are aware that not every person of a particular community or faith is associated with terrorist activities, but the probability of a terrorist belonging to a certain faith or a particular color, is also higher. Supporters of profiling are of the belief that desperate times need desperate measures, and profiling does work in containing terrorist activities.
On the other hand, opponents of profiling are of the view that profiling doesn’t really work, as terrorism is not connected to one single group or community, but to a mindset that promotes hatred towards fellow human beings. They cite the examples of Timothy McVeigh and Anders Behring Breivik – white men who carried out some of the most ghastly acts of terrorism. Opponents believe that when law enforcers focus their attention on profiling, other terrorists and criminals get overlooked, and pose a threat to the country.
There is a plethora of arguments that opponents and proponents have as far as the effectiveness of racial profiling is concerned. But if we strictly talk about the issue on moral grounds, we will find that profiling causes tremendous humiliation to an individual, and poses questions on his status as a lawful citizen of a country. It alienates a whole community from the mainstream. When carried out intensely over a period of time, it can even cause a moderate person to become an extremist. Mentioned below are some points which will throw some light on why racially profiling an individual is immoral.
Why Racial Profiling is Immoral
It puts innocents under scrutiny
Racial profiling is targeted against people who fit a certain description, due to their physical characteristics. On the basis of this, a lot of innocents have to go through the ordeal of being stopped, frisked, and searched. Because of racial profiling, an individual is put under a lot of scrutiny, which is contrary to the ideas of freedom and liberty.
It creates alienation and exclusion
Targeting an individual on the basis of his physical characteristics creates a sense of alienation and exclusion. When a person gets pulled over because he looks a certain way, while other ‘usual-looking’ individuals are let go, a sense of exclusion is bred in that person. In a polarized world, where there is a need to reach out to people of all faiths/colors, racial profiling creates a wedge between communities.
It diminishes trust in law
Law enforcement is a duty that is looked upon highly by people. However, when law enforcers engage in racial profiling, it creates a negative impression about them in the minds of law-abiding citizens of the minority community. When an individual, or a group, is singled out just because they look different, the trust and confidence in law takes a hit.
It feeds popular suspicion about minority communities
In a world where hate-crimes are on the rise, the last thing one can think of is the government promoting racial discrimination. When ordinary people see that individuals from minority communities are being frisked at airports, or questioned on the streets, a sense of suspicion is bred towards them. One of the challenges with multiculturalism is to get people from both sides of the fence to have an understanding about the beliefs and customs of each other. However, when law enforcers profile minorities, they inadvertently send out a signal to the majority community that minorities are more prone to engage in illegal activities.
It stigmatizes a whole community
When discussing the effectiveness of racial profiling in preventing terrorism and illegal immigration, one factor that often gets overlooked is the impact that profiling has on an entire community. When one sees Arabs, African-Americans, Latinos, South Asians, and Hispanics getting scrutinized all the time, one can’t help but see the entire community through the prism of suspicion and mistrust. Profiling has a profound effect on an individual, but it also stigmatizes an entire community of peace-loving and law-abiding people.
It causes immense humiliation and trauma
Many proponents of racial profiling believe that the issue of profiling has been blown out of proportion by human rights organizations. They believe that nobody should have a problem with getting frisked, or probed, as long as they are not indulging in any illegal activity. However, what they fail to understand is the humiliation and the trauma one has to go through when one is singled out in a crowd, and that too on the basis of one’s physical characteristics. Many people who have been subjected to racial profiling have narrated the harrowing experience of the whole process. Many break down while recounting the humiliation caused to them and their families, while they were targeted with ethnic slurs from law enforcers and laymen alike.
There are a lot of people who believe that racial profiling is a must because of America’s weak immigration policy. Also, the fact that a lot of people sneak in through the porous borders of America gives substance to their claims. However, they should remember that profiling comes at a huge cost of victimizing, alienating, and humiliating thousands of people everyday. Instead of clamoring for the continuity of profiling, it will be better if we channelize our energies into developing a more inclusive and prudent surveillance mechanism.