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.
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.
In this article, a Muslim-American was picked out of a crowd, “interrogated, finger printed” at an airport because of his ethnicity despite his taking every precaution against such acts by speaking in english, wearing Western clothes, and in his group, booking seats away from each other. His group was escorted off the plane after other passengers claimed they were suspicious. This kind of racial profiling in the United States happens unprovoked over ten years after 9/11 and is very similar to the profiling seen during the period following the attack at Pearl Harbor in which there were Japanese Internment Camps. Despite a westernized way of life for both groups of people, they are still discriminated against based on their skin color or religion.
Excerpt from “The Daily Beast” by Jessica Bennett
As a Muslim-American and president of the North American Imams Federation, Dr. Omar Shahin is no stranger to the heightened security of a post-9/11 world. On more than one occasion, the Phoenix, Ariz., resident says he’s been picked out of a crowd by the color of his skin—interrogated, finger printed or detained. So when Shahin headed to the airport Monday with five other imams for a flight out of Minneapolis—where the NAIF had met for a conference—the group did everything they could to avoid suspicion, according to Shahin. They wore Western clothes, he says. The men spoke only English. They didn’t book their seats together. And when it came time to conduct their sunset-time prayers, Shahin says, they did so quietly, and not all together—hoping to avoid any unwanted attention.
But when the group boarded their U.S. Airways flight bound for Phoenix, on which Shahin (a frequent flier on the airline) had been upgraded to first class, they would never leave the ground. After finding their seats and preparing for takeoff, Shahin and the other imams were escorted from the flight in handcuffs after a passenger handed a note to a flight attendant expressing concern over the group’s “suspicious activity,” according to the airport police report. The group was taken off the flight in handcuffs, and after several hours of questioning by federal authorities, released. But though the airline refunded their tickets, U.S. Airways—which released a statement Tuesday saying it does “not tolerate discrimination of any kind”—reportedly denied them passage on any of its other flights and refused to help them obtain tickets through another airline. “This was the worst moment in my life,” says Shahin, who, after an overnight delay, was able to get himself and his colleagues a flight on Northwest Airlines. “When they took us off the plane, six big leaders, it was very humiliating.” U.S. Airways told NEWSWEEK late Wednesday that it would not comment on the case beyond its issued statement.
What was the group’s suspicious activity? According to the report filed by the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport police, the group’s loud chants of “Allah, Allah, Allah,” initially drew the suspicion of nearby passengers—one of whom said he heard the imams make anti-American comments regarding the war in Iraq. Once on the flight, the men—who allegedly boarded the plane with no carry-on luggage and used one-way tickets—seated themselves in pairs, two at the front of the plane, two in the middle, and two in the rear (all according to the police report). The men, three of whom are U.S. citizens, two of whom have green cards and one who has a worker’s permit, also allegedly asked the flight crew for seat belt extensions.
But Shahin, a lawyer, disputes many of these details. He says everyone in the group had round-trip tickets that he had booked—and that he has the documentation to prove it. The reason he was at the front of the flight was because he was upgraded to first class because he’s a frequent flyer on the airline. And the reason he asked for a seatbelt extension? Shahin says his 290-pound frame should make that obvious. As for the anti-American remarks, Shahin says the group was talking about the conference, which, ironically, was focused on building bridges to the non-Muslim community. And to avoid this very type of incident, Shahin says he’d already notified both the F.B.I. and local Minneapolis police department of the NAIF conference, as a precaution, in hopes of avoiding any problems. “What they claim [in the police report] is just not true,” he says.
Shahir and the North American Imams Federation say they’ve consulted their lawyer, and have called for a boycott of U.S. Airways. They’re also being backed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington-based advocacy group that has demanded U.S. Airways launch an immediate investigation (which the airline says it has done) and has called on the U.S. Department of Justice and the Transportation Security Administration to conduct separate investigations of the incident. (CAIR says it has received a letter from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties saying that it has opened a review of the case.) “Since 9-11, we’ve seen a great number of racial and religious ethnic profiling resulting in people being taken off airplanes summarily because they are Muslim,” said CAIR Legal Director Arsalan Iftikhar, who says the Imam case is another example of “flying while Muslim.” “Reactions like this to Muslims praying really strike at the heart of the fear and prejudice that’s still so prevalent in this country.”
This is at least the second time this year that U.S. Airways has removed a Muslim from a plane. In August, Rima Qayyum, a 28-year-old substitute teacher, was taken off a flight and detained for 14 hours at West Virginia’s Tri-State Airport when security officials reportedly mistook her facewash and bottled water for possible bomb-making ingredients. Nationwide, according to CAIR’s latest civil rights report, for 2005, complaints of anti-Muslim harassment, violence and discrimination have gone up 30 percent since the year prior. Additionally, for the second year in a row, the 1,972 reports received in 2005 mark the highest number of Muslim civil rights complaints ever reported to CAIR in its 12-year history.
Observant American Muslims—who must pray five times daily—are left with a dilemma. How do they maintain their religious faith without attracting attention in an environment of heightened fear? Some ask why they should be expected to change their behavior in a country that promises religious freedom. Amine Chigani, a Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech, raises some of these questions—and more—in a Wednesday e-mail to CAIR: “Is there anything that I should do so I won’t have the same experience as our imams did?” she writes. “I mean, should I ask the plane crew while I get seated that I will need to pray at a certain time, or should I tell them during check in? Should I explain to the passenger next to me that I will be praying? And if the worst happens and they ask me to leave, should I? … I am willing to do anything to avoid [causing problems], except not to pray. Please advise!” Chigani is traveling to Seattle in December.
Patrick Hogan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which owns and operates the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, says that everyone should have a right to pray, but that in this day and age, “people must be sensitive to how their actions might impact those around them.”
But Shahir says his group took every precaution possible. “That’s my question to the people,” Shahir says. “What more do I have to do? I am American, I speak this language, I do everything by the book and I’m still suspicious. I cannot change the color of my skin.”
The above article addresses the actions of the NYPD: NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT SHADOWS PEOPLE WHO CHANGE THEIR NAME WHEN THEY SOUND ARABIC OR MUSLIM. The first time I wrote the opening line for this post I did not use capitalization, but as I reflected on the news, I became more agitated by the issue. I believe that this action should garner the utmost attention, as it is completely discordant with American values. The program is a tripwire that helps the police find “homegrown” terrorists. Immigrants for centuries, and even African Americans after emancipation, have changed their name to conform to the United States’ rampant discrimination. However, there has never been a program instituted in the nature of this one. Under the first amendment, this should not be allowed, there is no justification for this kind of invasion of privacy with no grounds. The FBI would be condemned for this kind of action and its INCOMPREHENSIBLE how this could continue. A poignant quote from the article: “In the past, you changed your name in response to stigmatization,” she said. “And now, you change your name and you are stigmatized. There’s just something very sad about this.” How much does a name mean to a person? One’s name is the foundation on which we are raised and its utterance will always draw attention. To give up one’s name must be a difficult action, allowing American racism and amalgamation to pervade into one’s life. All these individuals want is the ability to be treated in an equal manner; a chance to be evaluated as American citizen, rather than by one’s racial background. For this desire, they are made second-class. Additionally, some individuals change their name to a more Arabic one. For this to be considered as a sign that one might participate in terrorism works against even every racial assumption. Why would someone call attention to their background if they were going to confer harm onto their fellow Americans? They are only going to be faced with stricter scrutiny and discrimination. The NYPD cannot be justified in their actions. They are acting only on racial bias.
The case of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is very interesting as it deals with racial profiling after 9/11. On July 16, 2009, Gates, a Harvard Professor, was arrested at his own home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when police responded to reports of two black men breaking and entering the home. Gates had just got back from China, where he was doing research on Yo-Yo Ma for his documentary entitled “Faces of America.” Police came to his house to question him after a neighbor called 9-1-1 to report a possible breaking and entering on the premises. “Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, had trouble unlocking his door after it became jammed. [Gates] was [eventually] booked for disorderly conduct after “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” according to a police report. Gates accused the investigating officer of being a racist and told him he had “no idea who he was messing with,” the report said. (Boston.com) Gates told the officer that he was being targeted because “I’m a black man in America.”” (Boston.com)
On the outset, this would seem to be an extreme case of racial profiling. The arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, is white, and Gates was entering his own home, which, under normal circumstances, would not be a crime. However, after examining more of the situation, I think there might have been racial profiling by both Professor Gates and Sgt. Crowley. On one hand, Crowley could have been more calm and composed when he came to Gates’s house, and explained more of this weird situation so as not to escalate the matter. As a police officer it is his job to respond to any and all 9-1-1 calls, even if they lead to unfortunate situations like this where no crime was actually taking place. By not explaining the full situation to Gates, or, according to Gates, not paying attention to Gates’s Harvard credentials and Massachusetts driver’s license, Crowley could have appeared somewhat racist, especially to a man like Gates who is well-respected in the community, and who just got off a long and tiring flight from China and might have been on edge. On the other hand, documents seem to show that Gates was the first person to bring race into the situation. “Police say Gates yelled at the officer, accused him of racial bias and refused to calm down after the officer demanded Gates show him identification to prove he lived there.” (Huffingtonpost.com) If I was in Gates’s situation, I would probably have been angry, but by lashing out and accusing the officer of racial profiling, Gates was at fault like Crowley.
Crowley teaches a Racial Profiling class for police officers, and received full support from the Cambridge Police Department after the arrest went viral with President Obama accusing the Cambridge Police Department of acting “stupidly.” Yet Crowley’s past would indicate that he is, in fact, not racist, but did his actions on July 16, 2009 prove that he actually is? Was Professor Henry Louis Gates a victim of racism, or the first to jump to racist conclusions and in fact racist himself? What does this say about racial profiling and racism in America as a whole?
It would appear to me that one of the main reasons that Gates reacted the way he did is that he is African-American, and, at almost 60-years old at the time of his unfortunate arrest, he has lived long enough to know what a more racist America was like. Yet even after a variety of advances in society, maybe nothing has changed in terms of racial profiling. As an African-American, Gates may feel that he has to constantly look over his shoulder, because the white man is always out to bring him down. No matter that he is an renowned Professor and public speaker, revered in both the prestigious Harvard community and the entire world. As a white man who does not consider himself racist by any means, I cannot attest personally to the feeling of being racially profiled in this manner, but if I lived my entire life worrying that people were judging me by the color of my skin instead of the content of my character and knowledge, I might jump to racist conclusions if I was accused of breaking and entering my own home.
Decide for yourself. Is Gatesgate a case of racial profiling of an African-American professor, or an African-American professor stereotyping a white police officer? How can racial profiling be eradicated in America, or have we reached a point of no return where all human interactions have inherent racial tension?
This article addresses a recent debate over national security and privacy in the Republican debates. What arose from this debate is a shocking viewpoint from Rick Santorum, a potential Republican candidate for president. He advocated racial profiling and when asked to elaborate he added, “Obviously, Muslims would be someone you’d look at,’ he said, adding that ‘the radical Muslims are the people that are committing these crimes, by and large, as well as younger males,” (CBS NEWS). This is particularly disturbing to me as it is a clear indication that racial prejudice in politics is still present. This man could be a presidential candidate, although it appears increasingly unlikely, and he garners support by advocating racial discrimination. Given a position of influential political power he would endorse rampant racism. The TSA as an agency as the Department of Homland Security, is under the jurisdiction of the federal government. They must adhere to the standards that are imposed upon them and political power can impose changes in regulation. The issue with racial discrimination, in terms of Muslim focus, is often attributed to the fears of the public. The reason that many people suspected of terrorism are detained and questioned after they have entered a flight revolves around passengers who feel uncomfortable and report their suspicion. This is questionable behavior in itself, but to see a politician vying for a position of control of the nation as an advocate as precursory racism is concretely disgusting. How can thousands of people support a position of unqualified discrimination? The inherent nature of someone’s race should not predisposition them to treatment unequal of their fellow citizens. The government is an institute that should protect everyone in its sovereignty, not a population that it deems superior (Condon).