Racial Profiling

Published 16 Feb 2017

Race profiling is defined as the inclusion of race in the profile of a person deemed likely to perpetrate a particular crime or type of crime. It is exemplified as any police or private security procedure into which an individual is regarded as a suspect because of his or her race, ethnicity, nationality or creed. The inclusion of race as one of the numerous factors in suspect profiling is by and large backed by the law enforcement community within the Western world. Race riots have also been cited as a symptom of racial profiling. It is argued that profiling built on “any” trait is a time-tested and universal police tool, and that ruling out race as a factor is tantamount to being unwise.

Towards the last part of the 20th century in the United States though, the procedure became unpopular with the general public as exploitations by law enforcement were discovered. This occurs as police investigate, stop, frisk, search or apply force against a person based on such characteristics instead of proof of a person’s illegal activities. It frequently entails the stopping and searching of people of color for traffic violations, recognized as “DWB” or “driving while black or brown.” Though typically related with African Americans and Latinos, racial profiling and “DWB” have also turned out to be shorthand expressions for police stops of Asians, Native Americans, and, increasingly after 9/11, Arabs, Muslims and South Asians ( Pampel, 2004).

Racial profiling may mean pedestrian stops, “gang” databases, bicycle stops, making use of police attack dogs, suspicion at stores and malls, immigration worksite incursions, and in addition to the 2000 presidential election in Florida, harassment on the way to polls, or “voting while black or brown”. Even Customs and some other airport personnel also employ racial profiling of commuters (Defosse, 2002).

Some say that racial profiling is completely groundless, such as profiling an African American person because of their race. So the question at the outset will be ‘Is racial profiling real?’ Nearly all Americans believe so. In a July 2001 Gallup poll, it gives an account that 55 percent of whites and 83 percent of blacks think racial profiling is pervasive.

Moreover, the reports of thousands of racial and ethnic group members across the state add credibility to the assessment that racial profiling is well-founded. These are accounts from all walks of life, not just reliable, industrious everyday people, but movie and TV personalities, professional athletes, and members of the military. What’s more, reports of racial profiling come from esteemed members of communities of color such as law enforcement commanders, prosecutors, judges, state legislators, legal representatives, dentists and even representatives in Congress, who have been victims (Weitzer & Tuch, 2006).

Some quarters argue that racial profiling is actually just a new term for an old practice known by other names: institutional racism and discrimination and owes its being to prejudice that has remained in this country since slavery. Critics maintain that race must in no way be considered for any basis in a police encounter; it should not at all be considered the major or motivating cause for suspicion. It is because it’s used to describe a specific suspect in a specific crime and only when used in a manner like other physical descriptions (e.g., hair color, weight, distinguishing marks). Moreover even if race could be advantageous, use of race possibly will lead to many more inaccuracies where the real wrongdoer happened not to fit the race predicted by the pattern and law enforcement fails to capture the suspect.

It is occasionally essential to regard racial factors in a way that may not be directly obvious from the above when dealing with hate crimes and the like, though it is very unusual to think of conditions where racial profiling would assist police decision-making in this situation. This is often referred to as the “be on the lookout” (BOLO) exception. A number of groups contend that if a disproportional number of members of a race are, for example, stopped, searched, or arrested, compared to the general population or to other races, it is due to discrimination or inequity. And there are those that say that in the United States, the government does not have the right to perform racial profiling. The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution secures the right to be protected from unwarranted search and seizure without apparent cause.

In view of the fact that the considerable mass of people of all races are law-abiding citizens, simply being of a race which a police officer deems to be more likely to carry out a crime than another is not probable cause. In addition, the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution compels that all US citizens be dealt with equally under the law. It is unconstitutional for a representative of the government to make judgments on the basis of race. This observation has been supported by the US Supreme Court in Batson v. Kentucky and numerous other cases (Pampel, 2004).

Some groups also argue that police who concentrate their limited attention on one racial group allow criminals from other racial groups to go free. After the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, authorities exhausted a disproportionate amount of time and resources on two men of Middle Eastern ancestry. It turned out that this terrorist attack was carried out by a white male; if the terrorist had intended more than one act of violence, the waste of restricted resources probing men of Middle Eastern descent may possibly have cost lives. In commuter places like airports, racial profiling is every so often used to single out who to investigate more vigilantly and lengthily than everyone else. If a person’s physical features look like someone of Middle Eastern origin, then they’re normally expected to be stopped and searched methodically than someone who has the physical features of a European individual. It has also been indicated that a lot of Arabs and South Asians bear a resemblance to South (and occasionally even North) Europeans (Defosse, 2002).

According to some advocates (Weitzer and Tuch 2006)., only the non-racial factors are warranted in suspect profiling; police should pay no attention to any ethnic or racial information they have on people caught up in the illegal trade. During a 2002 poll, for instance, 73 percent of whites, 77 percent of Hispanics, and 91 percent of African Americans condemned of racial profiling by the police. Organizations such as NAAP and the ACLU are staunchly opposed to “racial profiling”. A large amount of crimes is perpetrated by whites, they say, and profiling based absolutely on race singles out minorities such as African-Americans and individuals of Hispanic descent. They also debate the claim that more crime is carried out by minorities, because, they say, it has been statistically verified not to be the case. However, in a “consent decree,” the State Police approved to implement a new policy that no person may be apprehended and held based on race, except said character corresponds with the sketch of a specific suspect.


  • Defosse, Jonathan R., “Asian Americans, radical profiling, and national security”, in: George Washington Law Review, 70 (2002), no. 1, pp. 181-211.
  • Pampel, Fred C., Racial profiling, New York: Facts on File, c2004. 284 p.; 24 cm.
  • Retrieved from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_profiling
  • Ronald Weitzer and Steven Tuch. 2006. Race and Policing in America: Conflict and Reform (New York: Cambridge University Press).
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