Racial Profiling

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  • Discuss profiling in the light of the events of 9/11, presenting an assessment of whether the use of profiling of individuals of certain ethnicities is justified in such areas as seaports, airports, and airplanes and in everyday police operations.

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The original question needed to be edited.  I think that the challenge found with racial profiling is that it makes a faulty assumption as to what constitutes harm.  Increased security became a reality after the Attacks of September 11.  Everyone had to be subjected to more grueling questions, increased security stops, and sacrificing their individual rights for a greater sense of the good.  Walter Dellinger, former Acting Solicitor General during the Clinton Administration, summarized this condition fairly effectively:

I am more willing to entertain restrictions that affect all of us like identity cards and more intrusive X-ray procedures at airports - and am somewhat more skeptical of restrictions that affect only some of us, like those that focus on immigrants or single out people by nationality.

It is in the last point where the challenges of racial profiling in the wake of the September 11 attacks resides.

Racial profiling in terms of identifying people who "look" like terrorists is ineffective for a couple of reasons.  The first is that it makes the faulty assumption that only one group of people do harm.  Harm and danger is associated with a particular profile or individual.  For example, someone with a White woman who possesses a domestic terrorist agenda would not be identified under racial profiling, but a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon or a stock analyst for Merrill Lynch who both happen to be from India and Bangladesh, respectively, would be subjected to scrutiny.  Racial profiling in the wake of the September 11 Attacks makes the case that only one type of person wishes to do harm. Essentially, like all racial profiling, it limits the scope and imagination of law enforcement.  I am not sure anyone who is conscientious about law enforcement and intelligence gathering measures would say that "Only young men who are Muslim" or "Only those from the Middle East" are out to do harm.  Doing so closes so many more doors than opens them.  In this light, such a practice could actually make Americans less safe if sight and vigilance is not given to all possible threats.  

In the end, the problem with racial profiling is that it succumbs to the paranoia and fear that is already present with the public.  "Stringent security measures" that are being acted upon by other passengers' fears and paranoia does not constitute as effective vigilance.  Consider the litigation brought forth by passengers who were profiled and then removed from their flights.  In many of these cases, racial profiling was not even done by the airlines or the airports.  It was done by fellow passengers, who reported their fears to the authorities, who, in turn, acted on these results:

[Litigant Michael Dasrath]  told CNN that his incident began with the complaint of a single, white female passenger who had been observing him and two other men in their first class seats.  'She basically said these brown-skinned men are behaving suspiciously...The pilot didn't say anything. He just kind of nodded at her and he walked up to the front, looked at me, looked at the two in front of me -- didn't say nothing. Next thing I know one of the gate agents is calling our names."

If racial profiling measures are being undertaken through the paranoia and fear of fellow passengers, this could not pass the metric of successful security measures.  It is here in which one sees the limitations on both practical and Constitutional grounds of racial profiling.

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