Racial Profiling: How Research from History, Criminal profiling, and Sociology Can Help the Problem

by audreylegault on May 13, 2015 - 1:35pm

Racial Profiling: How Research from History, Criminal profiling, and Sociology Can Help the Problem


In light of the recent protests throughout the United States that denounced police brutality, it became more and more evident that some police departments practiced racial profiling wrongfully and violently. In other words, the killing of young unarmed people throughout the country because of their ethnicity or religion is more than problematic. It is not a question of “isolated situations” anymore. This is systematic oppression that is targeting an entire race. Racial profiling is a recurring issue in the United States and should be addressed right away. In midst of this crisis, a form of new power emerged that could possibly be a solution to this complicated problem. Using research from history, criminal profiling and sociology, I will demonstrate how they relate to the recent protests in America and how new power can help resolve the issue.    

Source: Alaska Dispatch News

According to the article “State Power and the Constitution of the Individual: Racial Profiling of Arab American” by Dina Jadallah, the United States became involved in a multitude of interconnected conflicts and wars around the globe over the last decades. In order to effectively participate in these conflicts, this country has relied on a strategy of “full spectrum dominance”, where military superiority was combined with social, ideological, economic, and political control” (p. 219). In other words, the United States is a form of dominant state where the submission of those who are under its control is required. This form of power is true for both the people under its influence inside the country and out.


After 9/11, racial profiling seemed like a necessity in the war against terrorism. This form of racism was even more prominent while traveling. Most Arab Americans had to be subjected to random searches when flying because of this counter-productive method. Even though it was proved ineffective since most of the people arrested for “terrorism-related crimes” after 9/11 were actually not Arab, “current US policies target[ing] Arabs and Muslims” are still in place (p. 220). Racial profiling is not only racist, but it also has “political and social significance” (Jadallah  p. 219). This kind of procedures have resulted in an augmentation of the incarceration rate of minorities, making idioms like “driving while Black” or “flying while Arab” seem normal, or justifies an arrest. In America, racial profiling enabled law enforcement to target or search innocent people who are a minority and abuse them, which threatens their civil rights and compromise this “equality” that America is so fond of.


Historically speaking, racial profiling existed way before 9/11. It mostly targeted Black Americans. However, in opinions polls, it was clearly indicated that most Americans rejected racial profiling, seeing this as “dysfunction of an otherwise healthy system” (Jadallah p. 222). A USA Today/Gallup poll demonstrated that America’s public opinions in 2010 steered toward encouraging racial profiling, mostly targeting Arabs or Muslims in airports, even if they were American citizens. Since racial profiling became a common practice, it is inevitable for subjects of this racism to either fight against or submit to this “power” mentioned before (Jadallah p. 236).


Even though tragedies caused by racial profiling have been happening for a long time, the media only addressed this issue and police brutality over the last year. The media addressed the issue after the peaceful protests in Ferguson following the death of Michael Brown, a young black unarmed man that died screaming “hands up don’t shoot” (NBC News). The grieving community held those protests to bring awareness to the recurring issue that is racial profiling and police brutality. However, they soon turned sour after the police drastically responded by facing the protesters in riot gears. Brown was not the only one to die at the hand of a police officer; Tamir rice was 12 years old when he was shot dead for playing with a plastic gun in a park (News Summary 1). Again, Tamir was not the only one. This sort of tragedies are not rare; the bureau of justice statistics has demonstrated that between the years 2003 and 2009, Black people were killed when arrested four times more than White people (Bjs.gov).

Source: BJS, Census

Retrieved from: Mother Jones

Note: “The “other” section includes American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asians, Native Hawaiians, other Pacific Islander, and persons of two or more races.”


From a criminal profiling angle, there is no proof that racial profiling is an effective tool that can be used by police (Harcourt p. 1279). Harcourt discusses the importance of removing race from the equation when looking for a criminal. According to the criminal justice system, “all similarly situated persons [should] be treated alike” (p. 1283). In a better world, law enforcement should avoid criminal profiling since it reinforce stereotypes and should disregard the race, gender and class of an individual. However, when constructing a profile, Harcourt suggests that race should be treated no differently than gender, class or age. Race would only become one criterion when profiling. However, in large masses, profiling can become inaccurate since it aggravates “the correlations between status and crime” (p. 1283). He then remarks that the problem in racial profiling does not lie in the race of the individual, but the inaccuracy of criminal profiling. This law enforcement practice is often praised by the majority of people in the criminal justice system. However, this tool only creates biases into the penal law. The author of this article concludes that racial profiling, just like criminal profiling, will only accentuate the negative stereotypes of certain minorities in law enforcement and criminal law. 


Furthermore, Anabelle Lever discusses the social consequences of racial profiling in her article “Why Racial Profiling Is Hard to Justify: A Response to Risse and Zeckhauser”. Indeed, a lot of people have tried to justify racial profiling, while others questioned the morals and values behind encouraging this law enforcement tool. She argues that racial profiling, mixed with America’s background of racism, could become extremely harmful, and harder to justify. She refutes the argument that Risse and Zeckhausser made in their article “racial profiling” by demonstrating that some of their assumptions about racial profiling are either far-fetched or wrong. The author  also discusses the consequences of this tool on minorities, saying that “racial profiling is likely to remind blacks, all too painfully, that odious claims about their innate immorality and criminality justified their subordination in the past, and still resurface from time to time in contemporary public debate” (p. 98). Risse and Zeckhausser describe in their article racial profiling as expressive of racism. The label “expressive” is used to qualify harm that is caused by others expressing negative or untimely behavior towards a person or a thing.


Some justify racial profiling by comparing it to other forms of harm. For example, torture is considered way worse than racial profiling; therefore it is not really bad. This concept comes from the fact that torture is physical harm, not expressive harm, and that racial profiling is. Lever believes that racial profiling cannot be excused only because it is considered expressive harm. The term “expressive” only describes the cause of harm, not its degree. It is important to recognise that racial profiling is profoundly linked to racism, which is the systematic oppression of a person or an entire community because of their race or ethnicity. One cannot undermine the damages of racial profiling only because it is an expressive form of harm. In other words, it becomes too difficult to justify the importance of racial profiling in law enforcement since it only perpetuates racism and presents a danger to entire communities.


By observing racial profiling from a historical, criminal and sociological aspect, it becomes clearer and clearer that racial profiling is not an effective enough tool to be used by the police. This fact is only reinforced by the tragic deaths of hundreds of people that were wrongfully killed because of this practice.


This issue gained awareness on social media platforms. The popular hashtags “hands up don’t shoot” and “black lives matter” are now prominent on internet (Blacklivesmatter.com). This wave of sudden awareness can be considered a form of new power. According to Jeremy Heimans, new power is “the deployment of mass participation and peer coordination […] made by many” (Heimans).This form of power can easily describe this newfound camaraderie on the internet. Not only did social platforms bring awareness on police brutality and racial profiling in America, it also gave people the occasion to participate in petitions, marches and protests throughout the country. For example, a march from New York City to the capital of the United States was organized last April. The MARCH2JUSTICE’s goal was to “deliver a Justice Package of criminal justice reform legislation that will end racial profiling, demilitarize [their] police forces, and invest in [their] communities” (March2justice.com). This is only one example of the many initiatives that people throughout the whole country took in order to end racial profiling. Unfortunately, the problem is far from solved. The “End Racial Profiling Act” was presented last month for the third time in Congress (News Summary 2). This bill was finally able to obtain a hearing, but it is still under committee consideration. Racial profiling is still a recurring issue, and will continue to be for a long time unless we use new power to create a collective effort against this problem.

Source: Hijabby.tumblr.com

From left to right: Linda Sarsour, a racial justice and civil rights activist, and a media commentator, Carmen Perez, co-founder of Justice League NYC and criminal justice reform activist, and Tamika Mallory, a civil and human rights activist and freedom fighter. The picture was taken during the March 2 Justice.


In conclusion, racial profiling is in no way an effective law enforcement tool. Whether this practice is studied from a criminal profiling or sociological angle, it is proven useless and racist. When observing the historical context behind this issue, it becomes clearer that racial profiling has become a common practice in America. However, its consequences are dangerous and perpetuate stereotypes and racism. By using new power to bring awareness on this situation, it might be possible to incite a change and encourage the reformation of legislation that would end racial profiling in America.


WORK CITED          

Bjs.gov,. 'Bureau Of Justice Statistics (BJS) - Arrest-Related Deaths'. N.p., 2015. Web. 13 May 2015.



Blacklivesmatter.com,. 'Black Lives Matter | Not A Moment, A Movement'. N.p., 2015. Web. 13 May 2015.



Harcourt, Bernard E. "Rethinking Racial Profiling: A Critique of the Economics, Civil Liberties, and Constitutional Literature, and of Criminal Profiling More Generally." The University of Chicago Law Review 71.4 (2004): 1275-381. ProQuest. Web. 13 May 2015.


Heimans, Jeremy. 'What New Power Looks Like'. 2014. Presentation.



Jadallah, Dina, and Laura el-Khoury. "STATE POWER AND THE CONSTITUTION OF THE INDIVIDUAL: RACIAL PROFILING OF ARAB AMERICANS." Arab Studies Quarterly 32.4 (2010): 218-37. ProQuest. Web. 13 May 2015.


Lever, Annabelle. "Why Racial Profiling is Hard to Justify: A Response to Risse and Zeckhauser." Philosophy and Public Affairs33.1 (2005): 94-110. ProQuest. Web. 13 May 2015.


March2justice.com,. 'March 2 Justice'. N.p., 2015. Web. 13 May 2015.



NBC News,. 'Michael Brown Shooting - Ferguson Missouri News & Top Stories - NBC News'. N.p., 2015. Web. 13 May 2015.



Sources from News Summaries:

1.      http://newsactivist.com/en/articles/flacks-newsactivist-winter-2015-complementary-course/article-summary-tamir-rice-case-many


2.      http://newsactivist.com/en/articles/flacks-newsactivist-winter-2015-complementary-course/end-racial-profiling-act-2015


Sources of the pictures:

1.      http://www.adn.com/article/20141206/black-lives-matter-protest-anchorage-echoes-national-concerns

2.      http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-ferguson-race-data

3.      http://hijabby.tumblr.com/post/116995423100/theres-so-much-pain-in-this-photo-poc-in


This is a good essay about an important issue of modern time that has shape the world around us. The different approach used by taking into account history, criminal profiling, and sociology clearly enlightens the topic of racial profiling. However, it would be interesting to take a psychological approach to the issue. I know that humans tend to like or approach similar being simply because of the psychological nature of the brain. It would be interesting to take into account how our gene and natural reaction can favor racial profiling even though we are in a modern and open society. Humans naturally are hesitant to differences even though it is less the case nowadays. The following websites explains why we tend to have prejudice from a psychological perspective.