|Point: Racial Profiling is a Valid and Effective Law Enforcement Practice. By: Witherbee, Amy, Montanez-Muhinda, Rosalind, Points of View: Racial Profiling, 2015
Thesis: Race plays an important role in the experience of some Americans, and has a correspondingly important place in making America safe.
Summary: Race plays a technical role that enables law enforcement to identify those who are in the process of committing a crime and increase crime prevention. Since the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the federal government has actively trained its law enforcement personnel to look for suspects fitting specific profiles gleaned from past intelligence work and from recently intercepted data. Among the characteristics of people associated with al Qaeda is their Arab ethnicity and Muslim religious faith. While some people have complained that the inclusion of ethnic identity in profiles is discriminatory, most Americans recognize the need to provide law enforcement with all of the tools available to prevent another terrorist attack.
As crime statistics soared in the 1980s, police officers and politicians alike agreed that traditional law enforcement techniques were no longer enough to control a country in the grips of a drug war. State and federal government quickly began investing in new technology and more sophisticated methods of surveillance in an effort to bring drug dealing and related crimes under control. One of the most effective methods, however, turned out to be a matter of common sense that involved little to no technology, and was already being used in violent crime.
As law enforcement officers learned the patterns of drug dealing, the most commonly used smuggling routes and the populations most likely to involve themselves in drug smuggling and sales, police applied this knowledge in the form of criminal profiling. Despite the successes of criminal profiling, there has been a backlash in our society against using race or ethnicity as part of criminal profiles.
Race and Law Enforcement
No police department in the country advocates so-called "hard profiling," stopping or arresting a suspect based entirely on his or her race. However, race does play an important role in allowing law enforcement to identify those who have committed a crime or are even in the process of committing a crime. For instance, in the early stages of the war on drugs, the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) went to state troopers around the country in order to share information that they had compiled on the patterns of drug trade.
Among statistics that the DEA disseminated were the most common trade routes, the ways in which smugglers conceal their drugs, the traffic violations and patterns of behavior most commonly associated with criminal activity, and the activity of specific ethnic populations that are involved in criminal activity in a particular area of the country. As much as we do not like to admit it out loud, all of us have become aware of the fact that criminal organizations sometimes work within racial or ethnic lines.
Amid the ongoing debate on race relations in the United States, we cannot let justifiable concerns about racism and discrimination turn into an attack on solid and well-researched investigative activity. With training and information like that provided by the DEA, state law enforcement in the country's most crime-ridden areas have become highly effective at reclaiming city streets for citizens of all colors. The Justice Department confirms that violent crime, crime against property and "serious violent crime," including rape and murder, in the United States have all dropped steadily since the mid-1990s. DEA drug seizure arrests over the years likewise show a significant increase since the 1980s when the war on drugs began.
A Contemporary Example
The fact that racial profiling is not merely a form of discrimination is obvious in the high-profile case of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo. In that case, cities along the East Coast were terrorized when an apparently random shooting spree resulted in the deaths of ten people in the Washington, D.C. area. Unlike many of the drug-related crimes that are statistically associated with African American or Latino populations from specific countries and areas of the United States, serial murder is statistically associated with white males.
In the DC sniper case, criminal profilers predicted that the elusive sniper was most likely two snipers, one the "weaker" partner and one the "leader" who had a history of failure in marriage and in business. Because of historic trends, investigators were looking for two white men. Muhammad and Malvo turned out to be the statistical anomaly that is present in any general profile, but the profilers turned out to be correct on all other points, and were crucial to stopping the murders.
The Muhammad and Malvo case reminds us why "hard" racially-based profiling is merely bad police work, but also why law enforcement needs to use all of the information and historical data available in order to save lives. However, it was the terrorist attacks of September 2001 that convinced most of the American public that race plays a role in law enforcement. After the destruction of the World Trade Center, the United States stepped up the investigation of terrorist cells that might, if more had been done sooner, have prevented the tragedy.
As with any crime that involves planning or organization, terrorist activity is usually associated with particular ethnic, national, and/or religious beliefs that identify the American government as an enemy. In this case, the terrorists were part of al Qaeda, an Arab-Muslim group that has been active internationally for years, and with which the United States government was already familiar.
Since the September 2001 attack, the federal government has actively trained its law enforcement personnel to look for suspects fitting specific profiles gleaned from past intelligence work and from recently intercepted data. Among the characteristics of people associated with al Qaeda is their Arab ethnicity and Muslim religious faith. Random searches along ethnic profile lines are often merely a first step indicating a larger activity of coalescing crime.
While some people have complained that the inclusion of ethnic identity in a suspect's profile is discriminatory, most Americans recognize the need to provide law enforcement with all of the tools available to prevent another terrorist attack. In the end, al Qaeda's continuing ability to attract and train terrorists is another example of the fact that police must pay heed to race, if only because the individuals that commit crime do.
1. What is the author's main argument in favor of racial profiling?
2. Is it legitimate to argue that racial profiling is acceptable as a component of criminal profiling? Explain your opinion, citing evidence from the article.
3. Does the John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo case support or oppose the author's main argument? Explain.
4. Does the al-Qaeda example support or oppose the author's main argument? Explain.
5. In your opinion, does racial profiling provide law enforcement officers with a useful tool?