Racial Profiling by Police

Published 16 Feb 2017

Table of content


The following persuasive essay will present two sides of racial profiling by police. Different theorists suggest that racial profiling is a ‘necessary evil’ because it aids in putting criminals in jail. Although racial profiling does accomplish this task the argument of this paper will persuade the reader to consider that racial profiling merely promotes further discrimination against minorities through stereotyping procedures which is more harmful when this act is done by the police force who is supposed to protect human rights. Instead, racial profiling is hindering to minority’s rights and furthermore it increases the amount of innocent people who are put in jail and thus have to subsequently have to be processed as innocent before being allowed to leave, which often times includes over night stays in jail.

Thus, racial profiling is a violation of human rights, which will be the main focal point of this persuasive essay.

There are many factors that go into the account of crime prevention – first and foremost, the identification of crime in an area. The measurement and statistical analysis of criminal activity is important. Without this information, it would be impossible to adequately address the criminal issues of any given area, “It is not racial profiling for an officer to question, stop, search, arrest, or otherwise investigate a person because his race or ethnicity matches information about a perpetrator of a specific crime that the officer is investigating. That use of race—which usually occurs when there is a racially specific description of the criminal—does not entail a global judgment about a racial or ethnic group as a whole” (Gross 2002; 1415).

In support of racial profiling the system presents the statistical analysis of criminal activity wherein several important issues are discovered. The support for racial profiling exists in that it is through such analysis that specific crimes came be targeted. The identification of a certain type of criminal activity, such as vandalism, armed robbery, or violence, can direct the responsible policing agency to act accordingly. Such data would show target locations, as well as patterns of victimization, methodology, and possible suspects. Racial profiling is said to be important because it allows the police force to narrow their search criteria by geographical location, gender, appearance (weight, hair, etc), and race which makes it easier to apprehend a subject. Because crime is defined as being “constituted through the definitions of situations that are negotiated between different parties (offender, victim, witness, policeman, judge etc.) in processes of social interaction”, it is necessary to understand that interaction. (Meuser & Loepscher 2002; 2).

Statistical measurement of crime data could be used to identify the necessary programs a specific area needs. For example, if an area is suffering from high amounts of drug trafficking, it would be pointless to implement a program meant to curb the proliferation of vandalism. In the same way, the identification of primary issues of local jurisdictions would be a very important issue in maintaining the local population’s trust and respect of law enforcement, “In 1994, the New York City Police Department launched an aggressive anti-gun campaign that resulted in the stopping and frisking of tens of thousands of young black and Hispanic men. Critics charged the Police Department with racial profiling.

The Department replied that it deployed its officers in high-crime neighborhoods that are mostly minority denominated, and that the racial breakdown of those stopped corresponded to the racial makeup of victim descriptions of the perpetrators of violent crime, those arrested for violent crimes in New York City, and those described in 911 calls as carrying guns” (Gross 2002; 1418). Thus, although the populace and the media saw this as being racists, the police department targeted these men because statistically they were the ones who were carrying guns and so, the police department had a better chance of apprehending guns by stopping black and Hispanic men.

This data would also be used to judge the success, or lack there of, of the targeted programs that may have been implemented in each specific area. If, for example, a given area was experiencing a large number of car thefts, statistical analysis of the type of vehicles stolen, the location of the thefts, the time of day, or day of the week that these thefts occurred, would all be processed in order to identify a pattern. It is with a pattern that racial profiling works. This pattern would then in turn be utilized to apprehend those criminals responsible for the crime.

Reciprocally, if after a targeted anti-theft program shows no affect on the number of thefts in the area, it could then be concluded that the program was not a success – and therefore, would be in need of alteration. It is with this ill success that racial profiling is proven to be unnecessary and a system that is flawed. The purpose of this paper is to persuade the reader to the conclusion that racial profiling only perpetuates prejudice; when the black and Hispanic men were frisked and most of them were not carrying guns they must have felt targeted for not reason. Simply put, just because a certain racially described individual commits a crime does not mean that the entire race has the same attributes; that is racists.

The measurement of criminal data would also be used to identify possible criminal suspects. The concept of criminal profiling, a widely used tool of law enforcement, would be impossible without the acquisition of measured criminal data. It is through the statistical analysis of known crimes, that new crimes are solved. By contrasting the aspects of past criminal activity, it is possible to create a prediction of criminal behavior, “Before September 11, 2001, a few conservative commentators were the only people who publicly defended racial profiling on practical grounds. That has changed. Journalists, politicians, and pollsters have all expressed and documented a widespread sentiment that in order to win the war on terrorism we must focus our scrutiny on Middle Eastern Muslim men. The Justice Department’s interview program may not be expressly aimed at such individuals, but I has this effect. It is explicitly aimed at individuals from Middle Eastern countries and other countries with an al Qaeda presence…” (Gross 2002; 1422).

In the same way, it is important to know the statistical data of victims in an area. Large cities or areas which see a high volume of tourists each year must take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of those tourists. In many areas, tourists are targeted by local criminal elements because of their distracted nature, and their likelihood of carrying large sums of money or expensive items. By acquiring and analyzing the statistical data of known victims of crimes, it is possible, just as with the prediction of criminal behavior, to predict possible areas or groups which would be targeted by criminal activity.

The importance of the measurement of criminal data is paramount. Without the information that is provided by such studies, criminal investigations would become inefficient to the point of ineffectiveness. Also, without data illustrating the affect that implemented programs have on the criminal element of a targeted area, their success would be unknown. The funding for law enforcement comes from taxes collected from federal, state, and local governments. Without proper criminal statistics, there would be no way to properly distribute this tax revenue to the necessary areas. This is a reason by criminal profiling is pushed into the bureaucracy, because the police force knows no other system by which to apprehend mass amounts of criminals besides through profiling. This is why racial profiling is still used, not because it works, which it doesn’t, but because the police force needs funding and needs to show crime rate improvement and the only way to do this is through mass amounts of arrests or activity, even if it does not lead the police officer to the criminal. High crime areas necessitate higher funding, due to their increased policing activities, and the increased levels of training, and equipment technology that is needed to adequately protect those areas.

A suspect’s race alone is never strong evidence of guilt. There is no serious crime that is committed by all, or most, or even a large fraction of the members of any racial group. But race together with other information about the suspect can form a pattern that is persuasive to any degree. The usual situation does not involve profiling but case specific information…” (Gross 2002; 1428).

Within any investigation, be it scientific or criminal, the main tool to the investigator is the theory. It is the theory from which the investigation takes it course. The small pieces of known information are assembled, and used to form the theory that will – it is hoped – guide one to find the missing information.

Racial profiling is not the only means by which a crime may be solved. With the reports filed of abuse from police force on minorities a closer examination of racial profiling and its injustice as well as different crime theory applications will now be discussed. Within criminology, a theory is devised after a crime is committed. If there are no obvious signs of a culprit, one must utilize investigative methods to find the perpetrator. The acquired evidence is assembled into a model of possibilities. From this, the investigator would extract a list of possible suspects, or areas of interest which could further the investigation.

Theories can also be used to anticipate criminal activity, patterns of crime and victimization or other research methods. This type of theory is used to explain the behavior of crime and the criminal element. The Cohen and Felson Routine Activities theory is an example. This theory states that “the rate in which crime rises is equal to the number of suitable targets and the absence of individuals to protect those targets”. (DeMelo 2006) This theory is based on the logic that an increased opportunity for crime would equal an increase in crime. This theory also stated that, the rising number of women in the workforce meant a decrease in the number of parental figures in the home. This lack of guardianship then led to an increase in crime because of the lack of supervision on the youth of those areas.

Another theory that is applied to the understanding of criminal behavior is Sutherland’s Differential Association theory. This theory deals with the reasoning and motivation of criminal behavior, as well as possible causal factors. Based on nine key postulates, the theory states, essentially, that criminal behavior is a learned response to negative social interaction. It is through this theories such as this, that crime prevention is addressed.

While theories can aid in the apprehension of criminals, or the understanding of their behavior, theories can also be formulated with the intent of preventing crime. By addressing the key elements that create or influence criminal behavior, law enforcement is able to decrease crime rates in a given area by removing one or many of the key causal factors. One such theory that addresses such causal factors is the Social Disorganization theory.

This theory deals more with social deviance than crime specifically, however it can still be used to understand the causal factors of criminal activity. Under this theory “crime was seen as a product of uneven development in society”, meaning that a social setting the became unbalanced socially would inherit social disorder – and thus, crime. (DeMelo 2006) Through theories such as this, specific social programs could be developed that were designed to address social disorganization, however in contrary opinion to this statement Hassan (2002) states, “Despite the enthusiasm of Zogby and other Arab and Muslim Americans for the administration’s response, the ‘national security’ measures undertaken during the last 12 months by the Justice Department have targeted almost exclusively people from the Middle East and south Asia, and let to the incarcerations, deportation and interrogation of numerous individuals who had nothing to do with September 11.

In other words, the imposition of the rule of law on behalf of Arabs and Muslims coincided with an aggressive Justice Department attack on people from the Middle East and South Asia. Even if the administration deserves some credit for opposing individual acts of racial violence against Middle Easterners and South Asians, its present treatment of Arab and South Asian immigrants amounts to a legal assault based largely on an unstated policy of racial profiling” (Hassan 2002; 16-17).

However, this theory was seen to have problems in its application to real world events and situations. The main problem being that the theory confused the relationship between the cause and effect of social disorganization.

However, this failure to hold up to practical application does not entirely remove the theory’s value. Through the understanding of the short comings of theories such as this, one can explicate new theories that better address problems.

There are many aspects of research, criminal investigation and crime prevention to which theoretical processes can be applied. In order to address any problem, one must first identify a problem, and then assemble possible causes. This is then followed the application of possible remedies to that problem. Theoretical application is not infallible; however it is very effective in addressing possibilities. Then it is through this theoretic understanding that answers are discovered.

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, there have been many changes in the ways the United States government functions, one of which being racial profiling. The first act of alteration to the normal code of conduct was the drafting and passage of the USA PATRIOT Act. There are many who see this act as a bold defense against the fear of terrorism for the American public, however, a growing number of people see the changes in American governmental policy and overall attitude towards enemies and allies alike as an affront against proper American values and freedom, or, as this persuasive paper suggests, racial profiling merely adds in defining the government and its forces as denying citizens their human rights, as Hassan states,

The Justice Department announced on August 12 its intention to implement the National Security Entry-exit Registration System (NSEERS) on September 11, 2002. The system involves the fingerprinting of ‘high-risk’ foreign visitors. IN addition, the program will require targeted foreign nationals to register their residence with authorities and to confirm their exit. According to a Justice Department statement, foreigners ‘will be selected according to intelligence criteria reflecting patterns of terrorist organizations’ activities.’ But the system will begin by tracking ‘all nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria,’ though no nationals from these countries were involved in the September 11 hijackings. (Hassan 2002; 17).

Hassan gives further evidence that proves that power does not equal a criminal being caught, but instead the fact that racial profiling is a violent and cruel use of positions of power especially with the Justice Department,
In addition, the system will tag for fingerprinting any ‘non-immigrant aliens whom the State Department determines to present an elevated national security risk, based on criteria reflecting current intelligence’ as well as aliens ‘identified by INS inspectors at the port of entry, using similar criteria.’ The ultimate design of they system is to create an enormous database of foreign visitors that can be sued to track and locate ‘terrorist suspects.’ Rather than relying on ‘intelligence criteria,’ NSEERS will generate intelligence to facilitate the detention and deportation of certain visitors and immigrants. (Hassan 2002; 17).

As Andrew Kydd and Barbara Walter (2002) explain, there is a distinct politic to the notion of terrorism. However, these tactics are not always effective. There are many events of terrorism in the world each year, yet only a handful are regarded with any merit. According to Kydd and Walter (2002), through a well argued and insightful article, it is “the trust between groups” that must be destroyed for an extremist attack to be successful. This is the motivation behind the response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.

On December 6, 2001, then Attorney General John Ashcroft addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee in praise of this act, and it’s restructuring of the NSA, CIA and FBI. (Ashcroft 524) His rhetoric was patriotic and concise, and his views of the USA PATRIOT act and its changes seemed sincere. This was supported with the passage of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, which paved the road for the Patriot act itself. Eric Rosand (2003) wrote about the resolution in 2003. His response to its necessity was one of sympathy to the government, for having to face such a difficult challenge. However, not everyone who has commented on the alterations of the US governmental policy has done so with such reverence. Rosand compared the investigations into possible terrorist cells in the United States, to the “Palmer Raids” of 1919 – where, following a series of bombings, J. Edgar Hoover led a series of “round ups” of immigrants across the country and held them without trial or charge in “unconscionable conditions, interrogated incommunicado and in some cases tortured”. (2003)

Thus, torture is often times associated with racial profiling and it is seen as denying human rights and placing citizens in harms way during ‘patterned’ crime stakes. This attitude has spread throughout the country, as the appearance of impropriety has permeated the government’s handling of the terrorists investigations. Mary Jacoby brings up the question of the legal definition of “Detainee”. This is in response to the holding of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba. The prisoners of this facility have been acquired from around the world – from the war in Afghanistan, and from arrests done in dozens of countries around the world. However, the problem arises when the soldiers fighting for the Afghan military are brought in as detainees, rather than prisoners of war. While the Guantanamo prison has its apologists, such as Charles Krauthammer – who states that freeing of these men would be “lunacy” (537) – the fact remains, that in strict terms, the United States is in break of the Geneva Convention by holding POWs.

Fernando Reinares noted in his article, The Empire Rarely Strikes Back, that after “more than 2400 acts of terrorism against American citizens and interests” there have been only “three occasions of overt military response”. (Reinares 2002; 92) However, because of the incredible size and depth of impact of the September 11th attacks, war became unavoidable. There did arise a problem with the military action, however, as a growing public opinion seemed to point the target as Islam itself, rather than just Al-Qaeda and thus the growing of racial profiling not only by police officers but by citizenry. This prompted the United States to “enlist the help of as many Islamic nations as possible” to counter act this perception. (Aretxega 2001; 143)

This coalition of Islamic nations does nothing to counteract the rise in racial profiling within the United States. Sherry Colb wrote about the foreseen changes in American law enforcement following the September 11th attacks. Her article articulated the problem of racial profiling and its consequences. Cold notes that “real numbers do not support profiling”. (539) However this does not stop the utilization of profiling in airports, or in traffic stops as Hassan states, “Ashcroft’s initial dragnet was followed by plans to deport some 6,000 Middle Easterners who have violated the terms of their visas. It has become increasingly evident that the Justice Department and them INS intend to use September 11 as a pretext to crack down on immigrants in general and specifically to reduce the number of Arabs and Muslims residing in the US” (Hassan 2002; 18).

However, this too has its supporters, from such sources as law professor Roger Clegg. His response to the topic of racial profiling is one of acceptance and justification. “So what?” (Clegg 542) Clegg asks of the act of profiling. However his racial make up lends itself easily to such opinions, as an educated white male is rarely accosted for being white, educated or male.

The changes in the United States since September 2001 have been many and wide in scope, however there is little consensus as to whether these changes are for the better – or even legal. As illustrated in these articles, the several aspects of governmental policy that have been affected by these attacks have been met with acceptance and praise, as well as contempt and ridicule – with articulate and sincere arguments on both sides. Though, despite the articulate nature of the arguments, they do not dissuade one from his or her own opinion. It is the learned set of moral values that create one’s opinion of the new America.

It can thus be surmised that there are two very distinct opinions regarding racial profiling. One opinion relays the fact that the crimes being committed and by which the police department is being accused of racial profiling are crimes committed by those races which the department chooses to pull over or frisk. The argument remains true to police tactics in organizing the information about a crime that is given by a witness or a victim of that crime; because the crimes being committed were being reported to have been crimes done by African Americans, Muslims, etc, then these are the races being searched or profiled. For the department then, racial profiling is a legitimate cause for proper policing skills.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the fact that racial profiling is merely enforcing negative connotations about a specific race and these opinions or biases are being reflected with the Justice Department and police forces. This opinion, and the side of which this paper has taken, resides in the fact that profiling only prohibits equality and further exemplifies the prejudices of the United States. These prejudices are only covered up with the ploy set about by the Justice Department which targets people of different nationalities in order to bypass security laws and diplomacy.

As Hassan has stated, and has been quoted in this paper the Justice Department is even targeting people from nations who were not even involved in the September 11 attack. This statement, this veracity is simply omission and in omission is found guilt, as Hassan states, “The Bush administration has seized on September 11 to reinforce US borders and scapegoat immigrants in a period of unprecedented growth of the immigrant population” (Hassan 2002; 18). Thus, this paper has proven that racial profiling is a system with a great many flaws, and it is not a system without prejudice.


  • Aretxaga, Begona. “Terror as Thrill: First Thoughts on the ‘War on Terrorism'”. Anthropological Quarterly. Vol. 75, No. 1. Winter, 2001. P. 138-150.
  • DeMelo, Diane. “Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory”. Criminological Theory. Online Archive: May 19, 2006.
  • DeMelo, Diane. “Cohen & Felson’s Routine Activities”. Criminological Theory. Online Archive. May 19, 2006.
  • DeMelo, Diane. “Social Disorganization”. Criminological Theory. Online Archive: May 19, 2006.
  • Gross, Samuel R. “Racial Profiling Under Attack.” Columbia Law Review. Vol. 102, No. 2. June 2002. pp. 1413-1438.
  • Hassan, Salah. “Arabs, Race and the Post-September 11 National Security State.” Middle East Report. No. 224. Autumn 2002. pp. 16-24.
  • Kydd, Andrew; Walter, Barbara. “Sabotaging the Peace: The Politics of Extremist Violence”. International Organization. Vol. 56, No. 2. Spring, 2002. P. 263-296.
  • Meuser, Michael & Löschper, Gabi. “Introduction: Qualitative Research in Criminology.” Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research. (2002, February).
Did it help you?