This poem is loosely based on the story of James Hatsuki Wakasa, a Japanese internee who was shot by a guard at an internee camp in Topaz, Utah on April 11, 1943, because he was supposedly “escaping.” In reality, he was behind the fence the whole time, and thus shot for reason at all. Wakasa’s story was one of the more egregious examples of blatant racism and racial profiling that I came across in my research. In this conversation poem I wanted to explore the differences between what the U.S, government said they were doing to the Japanese-Americans, and the true reality that the Japanese-Americans faced in not having a voice to speak out in the camps.
This poem also works to move our overall narrative structure along, as a portion of the top left stanza is the official language that the government used to tell the Japanese-Americans of their fate. However, I didn’t really think the official government language was conducive to poetry, so I combined it with a more lyrical approach to get more emotion in the piece. This poem is mostly based on Wakasa’s story, but does not mention him by name so as to encompass the injustices of all the internees; Wakasa’s story or similar stories of reality distortion and disillusion could be the story of any internee who was racially profiled or exploited at this time.
I wrote a bunch of drafts for this poem, some general and some more specific to Wakasa’s story, before finally settling on this version of “Disillusion.” I struggled with developing both voices and giving them equal say in the matter, instead of writing purely from the viewpoint of someone who thinks that racially profiling is wrong. Similar to the other poems, I had to find the right balance between incorporating facts and raw emotion, and seeing how these elements differed depending on the “speaker” on each side of the poem.
In this post we will play devil’s advocate, showing both the positives and the negatives of racial profiling and stereotyping. The arguments in this blog post are not the opinions of members of this group. Similar to the Leadbelly poems that used different voices to explore the views of other characters besides Leadbelly himself, this post aims to examine the argument for racial profiling in the United States. Hopefully we can shed light on why racial profiling is such a highly contested issue in our country. After the Japanese dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor, the United States government deemed Japanese living in America a threat to national security, and had them interned in various camps. After 9/11, the U.S. government again has to deal with racial profiling issues. The goal of the government is obviously to protect the interests of the people, but how far is too far, and when do concerns for safety become concerns for racial profiling and human rights?
Many people think that racial profiling is bad, but what happens when another plane is blown out of the sky on American soil? Racial profiling, if done correctly, can help protect our borders. After the attacks on 9/11, Law Enforcement has been vigilant for attacks on the U.S. Airport security has rightly been increased. It is optimistic to think that all people are inherently good, but people are inherently evil have no disregard for the lives of others.If our justice system would rather send an innocent man to prison than let real criminals roam free, then we should utilize the same approach with racial profiling/stereotyping. Sure, many of the people that are profiled will be innocent, but all it takes is one terrorist to blow up a plane, and similarly it only takes one suspicious TSA officer to search that man and not let him on the plane.If you don’t want to be a victim of racial profiling, don’t have anything to hide. People inherently will judge you, whether you like it or not. You will make them feel better if they know that while on the outside you possess characteristics that lead you to be racially profiled, you are actually innocent. Yes, it stinks to be the turbaned guy who is stopped at the airport because he looks like Osama bin Laden, but his slight inconvenience is for the greater good. If he is clean, which he probably is, he can go on his merry way. If he is a terrorist, than a plane full of people has been saved.If more people stereotyped/profiled their peers, future crimes could be stopped. If people stereotyped Jerry Sandusky as a pedophile instead of a nice white guy, maybe he would not have raped those young boys at Penn State. “But he was such a good guy,” everyone said, “such a smooth-talker.” Parents trusted him, and he abused their children.It is better to be safe, and racially profile someone, then to let someone who is actually evil slip through the cracks and wreak havoc on society. If people don’t like being stereotyped, that is tough; if they are truly innocent, they should not matter being inconvenienced for a few moments for the greater good. Our justice system would rather see an innocent man go to jail than have a criminal go free. In that same light, it is better to profile innocent races rather than see acts of terror committed on American soil. If you look suspicious, you should be searched and profiled as an undesirable until proven otherwise. From blacks to Muslims to Latinos to Asians to whites, no race is safe from this racial profiling and stereotyping; but our country will be safe, and that is all that matters.
Racial profiling is an act that has been present for decades since long before the tragic events of 9/11 or World War II Era Japanese Internment camps. The fact of the matter is that racial profiling is a form of racial prejudice and leads to racially charged hate crimes. This is seen through a plethora of examples like the article on the Muslim-American doctor who was picked out of an airplane based on suspicions from other individuals despite the fact that he was as westernized as possible by speaking English and wearing common western clothing.In a more familiar example, the headline-making Trayvon Martin case is a prime example of racial profiling in which a young black man was fatally shot because of “suspicions” of violence even though the only belongings on him were a hoodie and a bag of skittles. This man was killed because he was black. He was racially profiled as a violent boy looking for a fight even though he stayed to himself. His murderer is not in jail now because of this racial profiling.It is not right to simply look at an individual and assume that because he or she is black, Muslim, a man, or any other basic identifier that he or she is suspicious and more likely to cause havoc. How many times have white females acted violently and committed crimes, causing the public to be surprised? This is because white females are deemed less suspicious or violent than other races and sexes, which is an unjust assumption. Race and gender should not make a violent crime any more or less shocking and should certainly not lead to racial profiling.Too often on our school campus “crime alerts” are sent out to students warning of a robbery, an assault, or a sexual assault. While this past summer the profile of the Ann Arbor rapist who tormented a handful of different women was reportedly a white male, the attention given to sexual assaults or robberies seen in the “crime alerts” focus on black males. This is racial profiling. As awful as it is to say, if the man who raped those women last summer was black, the police and the public would debatably be more outspoken and proactive in finding the man who committed these acts.Rape, just like any other crime, should not be measured on a scale of terror, with that terror relating directly to race, gender or any other difference. These crimes are violent and scarring despite the color of the perpetrator’s skin, which shows that racial profiling does little to help those victims of such acts. Victims do not want revenge on all of the people of the same race in which their perpetrator is, they want justice for the crime committed upon them by the perpetrator himself.The question is, why punish a large group of people whether it be based on race, religion, or gender, when only some of those people are the real perpetrators? Until the human race can rectify the crimes they have committed and grow enough to not put blame on groups of innocents rather than the specific perpetrators themselves, racial profiling will exist as a scapegoat. Racial profiling does nothing but add tension and catalyze violence between races and genders, causing more hate than there ever was to begin with.
This archive from the Data Collection Resource Center at Northeastern University contains a variety of articles and statistics of post-9/11 racial profiling in the United States. The United States is a free country, but as these articles, statistics, and other news stories show, there are still numerous examples of racial profiling and stereotyping within our free borders. The U.S. government has revamped security after 9/11, but at what cost, and is there any way for racial profiling to be fully eradicated?
This archive contains a variety of interviews of Japanese-Americans who were interned in various camps during World War II. The internees had different stories and ways of dealing with their lack of liberties, and served as inspiration for our poems. Each story is horrible and chilling, and lets people appreciate the rights and liberties that we can enjoy today in the United States. It is important to remember, though, that these rights are intended for every American citizen, not just citizens born in the United States. As we hope our blog shows, racial profiling is still present in the United States, and people need to be educated about the negative impact of racial profiling so that it can be stopped in the future.
Here are a few clips that depict racial profiling from the movie Crash, by director Paul Haggis. The movie was released in 2004, and contains multiple story lines of families of different races and backgrounds–white, Latino, African-American, Muslim, Asian, etc. I feel that the general arch of this movie contextualizes the opposing sides of racial profiling in the United States. On its most basic level, the movie is about the six-degrees of separation for people, as it portrays the intersecting lives of multiple families. In the beginning of the movie, the majority of the characters are very racist, and seem to have little or no redeeming qualities. For example, Sandra Bullock’s character racially profiles two African-Americans who end up stealing her car at gunpoint, and she later profiles the Latino man who is fixing her house locks as a gangbanger. The Latino locksmith is actually a caring family man, who only wants to protect his young daughter from the evils of the world that she will grow up in. There is also a young, white cop, played by Ryan Phillippe, who seems to be above the inherent racism and sexism of his partner. However, by the end of the movie, most of the seemingly racist characters like Sandra Bullock have a redeeming quality, while the seemingly good character, like Ryan Phillippe, makes a horrible decision that centers on racial profiling, shooting an innocent and unarmed black man.
The movie seems to say that since racial profiling is so ingrained in our society, it will be hard to eradicate it entirely. As Phillippe’s shooting shows, even the people that don’t seem racist might have a moment of weakness, and sometimes that moment of weakness can have fatal consequences. Yet the movie can also be interpreted with a more positive tone. By the end, Sandra Bullock gains an appreciation for her Latino housemaid that she didn’t have before, and many of the other main characters who made seemed bad are able to redeem their past mistakes.
I would definitely recommend watching this movie if you haven’t already. Some of the blatant racism can be jarring the first time you watch it, but I think that it allows viewers to meditate deeply on pertinent race issues that have to be improved upon in the future.
This article on CNN.com relates to the compare/contrast post that we plan on completing soon for the blog. The article seems to be written from the perspective that racial profiling is bad, but presents examples that can help better flesh out the arguments for and against racial profiling in the United States.
As the article states, “…New York police are allowed to stop and question anyone on the street if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person was involved in illegal activity, is about to commit a crime or is carrying a gun.” (CNN) The New York Police Department is allowed to “stop, question, and frisk” anyone who they deem suspicious and capable of (or already committing) a crime. The article adds, “Close to 700,000 of the searches took place in New York last year, a record number.” (CNN)
The police argue that this “frisking” policy takes lots of guns off the streets, and thus theoretically limits the violence in the area. New York City Council Member Peter Vallone Jr. says, “’Stop, question and frisk’ takes about 800 guns a year off the streets.” (CNN) I think that this practice is overstepping the boundaries of being a free citizen.
While the number of police “frisk” searches have greatly increased in the last few years, the number of shootings in the city has stayed roughly the same. According to the article, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly “testified that 96% of shooting victims in New York are people of color and therefore, stopping and questioning suspicious individuals in minority communities is justified. He said about half of the stops actually result in a “limited pat-down” and only 9% result in a more thorough search.” (CNN) Delores Jones-Brown, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, said, “the majority of people who are stopped are black, followed by Hispanics, then white people.” (CNN) Jones-Brown adds, “Almost 90% of those stops do not result in an arrest or a summons being issued.” (CNN) If the searching leads to little or no arrests, then the process would appear to be futile. If police were really concerned with stopping violent crimes and getting criminals off the streets, they would utilize their time and resources better. Instead of wasting their time inconveniencing innocent people, they would work towards finding the real criminals and searching them. For innocent people will be really inconvenienced if they are robbed from or murdered by a criminal that the police could have stopped with better preparation.
The fact that the police are trying to put an end to violence and death on the streets is definitely a good thing. However, who is to judge the appearance of “suspicious individuals?” Should the police be passing judgment on people who are probably innocent, or are there no other options to ensure the safety of the community? The CNN article also alludes to the prospect of racial profiling by the NYPD, as most of the “suspicious individuals” are nonwhite. Just because people might wear baggy pants or bandanas, doesn’t mean that they are part of a gang. Same with tattoos and smoking, or any other minuscule thing that the police can determine as “suspicious.” Most of these examples have worked their way into everyday American fashion and social norms, and as the above studies seem to indicate, most people are not criminals.
According to the RAND Corporation, a non-profit research organization for the public and private sectors, “In 2006, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) stopped a half-million pedestrians for suspected criminal involvement. Raw statistics for these encounters suggest large racial disparities, [as] 89 percent of the stops involved nonwhites.” (RAND)
I do not think that these “frisk” searches are the solution, as they present an inherently racial bias/profiling. Even if the police officer is not racist, there is no way around the problem that if you stop someone who is a different race then you, you will be called out for racial profiling. If the government needs to have probable cause to search someone’s home, or wiretap their phone, then this same law should carry over to free citizens walking or driving on the streets. Unless there is probable cause to search someone, the police need to mind their own business. For example, just because the majority of shooting victims in New York are nonwhite, doesn’t mean that every minority is carrying a gun and intends to commit a crime. That is not to say that the police shouldn’t stay vigilant on the job; that is what they are trained and paid to do. If they think someone is suspicious, they need to search them. But if they think that the person is “suspicious” in the more racial context, they need to find other solutions than just frisking them and violating the person’s liberties. Otherwise, police officers lose their credibility and authority with the general public. People won’t listen to officers who they recognize as racist, especially in communities where minorities and people of color are present. For police officers to be truly effective, they have to prove to the public by their actions and conduct that they treat every citizen equally, no matter the citizen’s race, which in this country means innocent until proven guilty, or innocent until proven suspicious. If officers spend most of their time conducting futile searches on innocent people, they risk the chance that true criminals are able to slip though the cracks.
After reading the posts on WomenBehindBars, I thought this was another interesting case of racial profiling that took place well before 9/11. Similar to Susan Smith, who originally accused an unnamed (an unreal) black man of murdering her two young children, Charles Stuart murdered his pregnant wife and was able to briefly convince Boston police that a black man had carjacked them and killed them. Stuart beat himself to show that he had been attacked. He gave the police a description of this supposed black man, and eventually picked one out of a lineup at the police station. This black man, Willie Bennet, was held for a time before Stuart’s brother told police that Charles was the murderer. Soon after, Charles Stuart committed suicide by jumping off the Tobin Bridge.
More information about the specifics of this case can be found on Wikipedia.