How can racial (and gender) profiling be avoided?

Take one example, INS. Are not hispanics more likely to be illegal immigrants than nonhispanic white?

Are not males and african americans more likely to be felons than women and caucasians?

If one group is empirically found to be more involved in drug smuggling than another, why should not race be taken into account when police or INS people stop or search people?

A totally even-handed approach would be inefficient and “blind” to the facts that we already know.

What do you think?

Back in the 80’s, police at a gas station outside Los Angeles pulled a black man over and were about to detain him on suspicion of being a drug dealer because he fit their profile: black, young, fit, wearing “colors,” driving an expensive black car. Fortunately, the guy working at the gas station recognized Levar Burton (currently starring as Geordie LeForge on STNG), and pointed out that the odds were against his being a drug dealer.

You’ve hit the nail on the head–a totally even-handed system should be blind. That’s why the statue of Justice is wearing a blindfold–because it’s SUPPOSED to be blind. Ever see Alice’s Restaurant? Same idea. It’s that whole innocent-until-proven-guilty thing.

It doesn’t sound to me like you are really interested in a debate on how we can end racial profiling. You seem to have already made up your mind that it is warranted. There is a wealth of information out there on the subject just a click away. But I will give a few sites that you will probably find do not exactly fall in line with what you seem to already believe is true. Click on them if you like.


I was going to start a thread on this very topic. When I get home, I’ll post my opening response. In the meantime here are a few more sites for you to visit.

We had a lengthy and pretty good discussion of this a while back.

Just one point to make. Regardless of the efficacy or inefficacy of racial profiling, it is illegal. Period. Further, it would take a constitutional amendment to make it legal.
The Fourth Amendment bans searches and seizures without a warrant. There are several exceptions to this, but even under those exceptions, a “generalized suspicion” is never sufficient grounds to stop, search, or seize. Racial profiling is the definition of a generalized suspicion.

So, we can talk about it as much as we want as a theoretical issue, but I see no way in hell that 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of the states are going to vote for an amendment to allow searched ans seizures based on race.


Efficiency has NEVER been the goal of our justice system. If it were, there would be no Bill of Rights.
The right to counsel, protections against self-incrimination, right to a jury trial, the requirement that guilt be found “beyond a reasonable doubt” and the right to be free from warrantless searches and seizures make the imposition of justice immeasurably more inefficient. Because of them, I do not think that I am exaggerating when I say that literally thousands of crimes go unpunished each year. This is a choice we as a society have made; forego some protection in return for our freedom.
The trade-off - less protection, but more freedom - is as American as apple pie, and indeed this analysis is at least partly the reason we rebelled against the British in the first place.
This trade-off should not be tossed out because race is involved.

The most efficient way to fight crime is to seal off a neighborhood (black/white/hispanic/whathaveyou), and search each house/apartment for evidence of crime. Hell, you go through my house today, you would find evidence of building code violations (my apartment building is zoned commercial), misdemeanors (a stolen street sign from my college days), etc.

But we don’t do that in this country.


Just want to pile on

Try this [url]link for more on perception. And why what you “know” is wrong.

***grumble grumble “preview” grumble ***


I started writing this last night, but actually went to sleep instead of starting a thread (imagine that!). I guess I was just waiting to show it to you, berdollos.

Growing up as I did in the inner city and being (what I consider) quite pragmatic, I have always been on the “police” side of this argument. I always maintained that the police have one of the hardest jobs imaginable. That they see the worst of society and so come to believe the worst from society. I also have argued with many a minority that if you believe the police are out to get you, then it would be prudent not to break the law.

All these real life discussions took place with the assumption that the police are biased against minorities. But here, at the SDMB, assumptions were made to be challenged.

Inthis thread it was brought to my attention that when minorities are stopped by police they always assumed that they were stopped because they were minorities.

In this thread it was postulated that the reasons blacks in particular are shot more often by police is because blacks are responsible for almost half of all violent crimes in the USA.

The FBI says that 40% of the people arrested for violent crimes in this country are black. (Note, the statistics are for people arrested for violent crimes. Nowhere does the FBI state that this 40% is for all violent crimes committed in the US.) and the DoJ states that 16% of the black population in the US will go to jail. Let’s think about this. .2% of the population is responsible for 40% of all the violent crime in America?

Do these numbers vindicate the police or point to the bias of the justice system?

Thinking that statistics that show the percentages of people detained by police would put these numbers in context, I searched for, but could not find, any municipalities that released such numbers (although two counties in Pennsylvania are starting projects to do just this) but with the recent brouhaha over racial profiling on the highways, I was able to find some numbers.

The ACLU did a traffic study in Maryland. There findings? The percentage of traffic violators by race was 74.4% white. This is understandable since 75.6% of all drivers were white. 21.1% of all were minority accounting for 21.8% of the violations observed. However 80% of all drivers stopped by the Maryland State Troopers were minority. I wonder what the percentage of minorities arrested for traffic offenses is in Maryland as compared to whites?

From John Derbyshire from the National Review: *The New York Times Magazine in June 1999, Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed Bernard Parks, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. Parks, who is black, asked rhetorically of racial profiling: “Should we play the percentages?…It’s common sense.” *

With those percentages on your side, how can you lose? Also from Mr. Derbyshire: “Unfortunately, a negative stereotype can be correct, and even useful.”

Useful to what purpose?

Why can a profiler profile. You hear it all the time “You are looking for a _________ man, between the ages of 25 and 30.”?

Vehicle profiling at the border is getting to be a bit of an embuggerance for me. In 40 years of crossings, I was never pulled over for a search.

Then I bought The Pimp Mobile (a Caddy).

Been searched every time since then.

About the only good thing about it is that after numerous conversations, some of the customs staff are considering putting forward a dragon boat team for this year’s festival.

The difference is the level of specificity (is that even a word?). There’s a difference between “catch them black folks, they always commit crimes” and “we have reason to believe that the suspect is black”.

this is an example of how enactment and enforcing a law can create a racial skewing that increases the perception that minorities are more likely to be criminals.

The law allowed authorities to waive over to adult court, youths caught selling drugs within specified amount of space from schools or public housing units. Now, since in the suburbs, it’s realtively easy to be beyond that distance, but in an urban setting where there are huge amounts of public housing units as well as schools, it becomes almost physically impossible to not be ‘too close’ to one or the other. IOW - by enacting the law, they created a special class of likely recipients of that law, most of whom were minorities. School, public housing and minorities are all much more confined in urban environments (ie, small amount of space means more likely to be within the 1000 feet, and with a larger concentration of people as well).

According to the cite, all but one of the 259 caught, were black or Latino.

Let’s turn this issue on its head a second. Imagine you’re a cop in an unmarked car, cruising a largely black neighborhood. You hear country fiddle music, so you look around and see a pickup truck with a Confederate flag bumper sticker, driven by two young white guys with shaved heads.

Question: do you ignore them, or do your follow them, maybe even pull them over? I lay odds that even the most fervent ACLU supporter thinks “They’re suspicious- by all means, check them out. They’re probably up to no good.”

But why? What have these two young men DONE that makes a stop or a search seem reasonable, let alone necessary? If you pull them over, you’re guilty of PROFILING! That is, you looked at those guys, and an alarm went off in your head. The alarm said “Those guys don’t belong here. They don’t FIT in these surroundings. What’s more, I have a preconceived notion that skinheads who drive pickup trucks and flaunt Confederate flags must be troublemakers.”

In short, based on NO evidence, you’re probably prepared to pull over a couple of guys, just because you don’t like their looks. And you know what? You’d be right! in fact, if you DIDN’T pull them over, every black resident of that neighborhood would think you were an irresponsible idiot. (“You saw two skinheads cruising our neighborhood, and you didn’t think that was suspicious??? What’d they have to do, burn down a church before you checked them out?”).

Well, Astorian, are these shaved, confederate flag carrying pick-up drivers doing anything besides driving? And do you really believe black people think that whites driving through predominatley black neigborhoods should be stopped by the police?

Of course they shouldn’t be stopped just because they are white.

astorian -

If you think your hypothetical represents the thinking of the ACLU, you don’t know the ACLU. The police officer should not stop those two skinheads unless he has a particularized suspicion that those two individuals have committed or are committing a crime. Such a stop would not only be improper, it would be illegal and unconstitutional.

It is appropriate and legal to observe and follow people about whom you have a generalized suspicion. So the cop could keep an eye on the skinheads, which would most likely serve the purpose of preventing whatever crime they were planning to commit, if they were planning to commit one.


I’ll take those odds – they sound more like the stereotypical beliefs of an ignorant conservative than anything resembling ACLU policy. At least, when I was a member of the ACLU, I didn’t get any of the mailings telling us that all white folks were evil and should be treated with extreme prejudice.

Nothing – which is why they shouldn’t be stopped.

Can I get odds on this too? Because I smell another conservative-fantasy-cum-stereotype here… :slight_smile:

SPOOFE Bo Diddly - The fact is that I was actually thinking of a show I saw the other night, in which the profile stated the killer was “a white man”. It was a show about serial killers and at the time I thought about the fact that I have never heard of a black serial killer. Would it be profiling if the police were to immediately start looking for a white suspect in a serial killer case, even if some of the victims were black?

As I see it, profiling is only a problem if the person being spoken to by the peace officer has not yet committed a crime. Almost every person breaks the speed limit law at least once each and every time they drive their car. For this reason, it is acceptable to pull them over even if your reason for choosing that individual was race or gender. If 99% of the people driving by are breaking the speed limit law (at least for a brief moment) then it really doesn’t matter which ones you pull over. If statistics show that you are more likely to discover other criminal offenses in the cars of minorities then it would seem acceptable to pull them over more often. All the people speeding are breaking the law. None of them have the right to complain even if minorities are pulled over more often. To pull over someone that has done nothing wrong is one thing. If you go to great effort to avoid breaking the law then you have the right not to be harassed. But if you are speeding, even for brief moments, you have no right to complain that you were pulled over even if you were chosen because you were a minority (as long as you were caught speeding as well). If peace officers kept those radar guns running continuously, they could pull over almost anyone they wanted to.

As far as the two gentlemen driving the truck go, there are certain things any individual can do that WILL cause them to be discriminated against. Wearing certain clothes, speaking certain ways, and behaving in certain fashions, will result in discrimination. It is not a good thing, and as a society we should work to eliminate it, but, at the moment, it does occur in our culture. Thus, when you shave your head, or put a confederate flag on your car, or get a nose ring, or dye your hair pink, you do so at your own risk and you know it. You have the right not to be discriminated for doing these things, but right or no, you will be discriminated by some. You, as an individual, are at least partially responsible for everything that happens to you. You can try and change everyone else, but you will never succeed. Changing your own actions is a much more reasonable and efficient way of stopping harassment. You cannot change a few physical characteristics you were born with, but you can change everything else. The truck-driving gentlemen knew (or at least should have known) the risks of their actions before they committed them yet they did it anyway. Should they pulled over–No. Will I pity them for being pulled over–No. We do not live in an ideal world. If the truck-driving gentlemen did what they did in an effort to teach people to accept those that are different, then they will be discriminated against for a noble cause. If they dressed and acted that way for other reasons, then they will still be discriminated against. No matter why they did what they did they will be discriminated against and they knew it when they started. There is a price each person much pay for being “different.” We are all unique in some ways, but the more you blend into society, the less you will be discriminated against. If you were born looking substantially different from others (e.g. dark skin, red hair, a strange facial birthmark, etc.) then you must extend a greater effort than most to blend in so you can avoid persecution. Having noble ideals does not give anyone an excuse to avoid being practical.

So I suppose it should follow that women should not go out at night, wear the clothing they enjoy or work certain jobs if they wish to avoid being raped? Sorry man, that doesn’t jive.

You should not give into terrorism (which is what racial profileing is). That cowardly. It creates a nation of injustice and a nation of sheep that just sit there and take it.

I actually have pink hair. Damned if I will sit there and take what people dish out to me because I “asked for it” by following my ideals instead of some preset world order. When I am confronted over my hair I will educate, and prove that I and others like me are more than simply freaks. I will show them my humanity, and my worth. If that doesn’t work I will use stronger tactics.

But I won’t give in.

This world will never get better if no one tries to change it.