Everything Wrong With Profiling
By: Elias Khoury, ADC Summer 2019 Intern
It somewhat astounds me that this idea has not yet met its death like the so many other discredited pseudosciences, such as phrenology, that claimed they could accurately judge people’s worth based on exceedingly arbitrary metrics. You would think that, after the tremendous failure of so-called “stop-and-frisk” in states such as New York and Arizona, such policies would have been relegated to the dustbin of history by now. But alas! I am afraid that a small but vocal minority of pernicious voices have continued to try to inject this vile concept into the public discourse. It would be of criminal negligence to allow their appeal to go unopposed. So, my friends, it is time to talk about racial profiling.
Time and time again, we are told by proponents of racial profiling in law enforcement that their policy proposals are rooted in pragmatism, and not prejudice. They assert that certain racial/ethnic groups are more prone to committing certain crimes and, therefore, it makes sense that law enforcement treat said groups with more scrutiny. While this may seem like rational justification on its face, the ludicrousness of such argumentation is quickly revealed upon closer examination.
Indeed, racial profiling necessitates that you stereotype in ways that are grossly irrational. One can easily arrive at this conclusion by way of some rather simple logic. Allow me to demonstrate with an analogy…
Imagine you are the boss of a financial firm. Now, let us say that 70% of your employees are accountants and the other 30% are salespeople. Statistically speaking, it might very well be reasonable to assume that — all else equal — if a worker walks into your office, they are probably an accountant. However, this is by no means something that ought to be operationalized. That is, it simply would not make sense to start a conversation about budget reports — as opposed to, say, sales reports — with any of your workers who happen to wander into your office. Doing so would be to, in effect, treat all of your workers like accountants, even though you know that 30% just plainly are not.
Hopefully I have made the parallel clear. Just as it does not make sense to treat all workers as if they are accountants, it does not make sense to treat all members of a racial or ethnic group as a security threat when we know that they are not. But, in addition to being nonsensical, racial profiling is also cruel.
Due process is something we all should be able to get behind. In regard to the law, you are innocent until proven guilty. That is a great thing. However, racial profiling is antithetical to this standard as racial profiling shifts the onus on members of already-marginalized communities to rebut negative — and, overwhelmingly, false — stereotypes about their respective racial group. Rather than it being the job of law enforcement to prove allegations of wrongdoing, where racial profile is in effect, it puts the burden of proof on civilians to constantly prove to the authorities that there is “nothing to see here”. The built-in presumption of guilt with these practices is something that simply cannot be tolerated by anyone — especially those who claim to value the Constitution and rule of law.
Moreover, racial/ethnic profiling carries with it a spirit of identitarianism that is, frankly, horrifying. Rather than viewing people as the individuals that they are, it imprisons folks — however decent and law-abiding — in their race. You become nothing more than an extension of your skin color. You are not unique; you are not special; you are not of value. You are nothing more than a hue. You can be the most upstanding citizen around but, if you just so happen to belong to a profiled group, you are forced to live under an immovable cloud of government suspicion that you are up to no good. To call this “unfair” would be to massively understate things.
What also must be touched on is that the supposed “logic” behind racial profiling can be extended out to justify things even more terrifying than the discriminatory practice itself. Indeed, if treating select groups with greater scrutiny can help keep us safer, would it not stand to reason that treating everyone with greater scrutiny would serve to keep us safer still? After all, there are good and bad in all cultures, races, and ethnicities. If we are to really do our job in weeding out the proverbial “bad apples”, why not just treat everyone as a prospective prisoner? Like it or not, embedded in the argument for racially profiling is an argument for a full-on police state. And, if a proponent of racial profiling claims they are not in favor of a full-on police state, ask them why, then, are they in favor of one for minorities.
It is for these reasons that I see fit to proclaim that any and all pseudo-intellectual justifications given for racial/ethnic profiling bunk. It is high time that we, unabashedly and without reservation, refer to these practices as what they are: bigotry. We at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee vow to fight these policies wherever we find them, and we ask that you join us in this noble endeavor. Verily, the future of justice in this country and abroad depends on it.