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The Declaration of Independence Stated
The Declaration of Independence stated that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (“Early America, 2010, Para.2) Are we all created equally in the eyes of the criminal justice system if racism was thought to be abolished long ago by the Civil Rights Movement? Why is it that that we are still plagued by various faces of racisms in today's society? One of the faces of racisms is called racial profiling. What is racial profiling? “Racial profiling is the inclusion of racial or ethnic characteristics in determining whether a person is considered likely to commit a particular type of crime or an illegal act or to behave in a "predictable" manner. It is often confused with the more comprehensive offender profiling and has been perceived to be directed most often toward non white individuals. Although this practice has been common for centuries, the practice became particularly controversial toward the end of the 20th century in the United States, as the potential for abuse by law enforcement came to light.” (Wikipedia, Racial Profiling, Para 1)
Imagine that a police officer was parked along a side street observing illegal traffic violations and criminal activities. He noticed a red mustang with tinted windows driving over the speed limit. The officer turned on his siren and followed the targeted vehicle until he pulled over to the shoulder. The driver had worked a double shift and was on his way to home from work. As the officer approached the mustang, he noticed that the driver was black. The protocol instantly changed. It was supposed to be an innocent traffic stop, but because the driver was black it went a step further towards the possible pretense of harboring drugs and weapons. The driver gets interrogated. “Are you aware that you were speeding? Where are you heading? Why are your eyes so red and dilated? Are you taking something? Step out of the vehicle; I need to search your car. I am suspecting that you have illegal drugs.” He quickly called for backup assistance. A routine traffic stop that should have taken 5 minutes became an ordeal. Back up arrived and the mustang was searched inside and out. The officers didn't find anything, wrote the speeding and advised the driver to obey the speed limit. The driver is left was in a disarray and speechless. Once targeted, the victims are inconvenienced, humiliated, and harassed, which can lead to police brutality, deadly confrontation, and imprisonment. This is a prime example of racial profiling. It exists, and is a controversial issue currently being faced by the criminal justice system. I feel that racial profiling is a harsh form of racism. It is discrimatory and nothing more than an extension to the one's racial prejudice that takes away our dignity, equality, and right of mankind that is guaranteed by the Constitution.
Allow me to provide yet another example of racial profiling that occurred recently which caught the attention of the media. In a summary of an article, written by Megan O'toole of the National Post, it states that Henry Louis Gates, Jr. who is an African American “distinguished scholar was arrested.” (O'toole, 2009, Pg A2, Para. 1) Gates lived in a single family home near Harvard University. He had trouble getting into his front door and tried to find ways to enter his home. His neighbors called the police reporting a possible break-in. When the police arrived, they questioned Gates' presence at the resident. Gates presented the ‘white' officer with his driver's license to prove that it was his residence. However, the police officer was still interrogating Gates. Gates was furious and asked the officer if he was being held suspect because of his skin color. Gate was arrested and later released. (O'toole, 2009, Pg A2) Since he was a scholarly man, his arrest made headlines. Why didn't the police officer accept Gates story? Was the driver's license not enough evidence? If Gates was a “white” man, would it have made a difference? Was Gates a victim of racial profiling? I believe that in fact Gates was a victim. Law enforcers are trained to look at the evidence provided. In this case, the evidence showed that Gates had proved his identity and verified his residence with his driver's license. Does a man not have the right to break a window or the front door of his own home? How is that obstructing justice? Truthfully, it would only be obstructing his own cash assets because Gates would be financially responsible for the repairs necessary to amend the damages of breaking into his own home. Racism is a touchy subject, especially to a black man. African Americans have come a long way from slavery, segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement to be a part of today's society where they are suppose to be seen as “equal” in the eyes of the law, society and the nation as a whole. Gates became very defensive because he felt humiliated – a wealthy, highly educated, honorable, law abiding citizen being falsely accused of a crime.
Middle Easterners are also victims of racial profiling. According to an article written by Eric Lipton of the New York Times, he reported that “Citizens of 14 nations will be subjected indefinitely to the intense screening at airports worldwide.” (Lipton, 2010, Para. 1) These include the following passengers from the following nations: “ Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria” (Lipton, 2010, Para 4) Targeted passengers are required to under-go a full body scan, pat downs, and will face extra scrutiny on their carry-on bags before they can board.” (Lipton, 2010, Para 5) This is another prime example of racial profiling. The September 11th terrorist and the Christmas day bomb threat were from passengers of Middle Eastern decent. Therefore, airport officials are racial profiling Middle Easterners; however, they fail to realize that the next terrorist may not be from that origin. They are concentrating all their energy and time in one ethnic group that the “real criminal” will be overlooked. It is great that the airport officials are heightening security to ensure a safe flight. But are we really safe? I would be safer if every passenger of race, color, and ethnic group would go through full security screening; not just Middle Easterners.
My cousin, Van, is a tan, short, Asian man in his 30's; however, looks more Hispanic than Asian. He lives in Ellicott City's Town and Country apartments, where inhabitants are mainly Hispanic, black, Middle Eastern, and other minority groups. This apartment area has always been known as being a high crime rate area for drug dealing and theft. The day before this incident there was a police report of drug soliciting in the nearby apartments – witnesses claimed that it was a young Hispanic man selling drugs on the corner to kids. Early one brisk, cold morning, Van was outside warming up the car for his wife to go to work. He turned the engine on and left the car running while stretching and walking up and down the side walk, waiting on the car. There was a police officer that was patrolling the area and decided to stop him to question what he was doing. Van does not speak or understand English fluently. He could not articulate to the officer that he lived in the apartments and was being a good husband and law abiding citizen. The police asked for identification. He was telling the police officer that his wallet was home and that he was going to show the officer where he lived. For safety reasons, the police officer refused to go to Van's apartment to obtain his identification. The police officer proceeded to arrest him and he was held in jail for 24 hours until the police commissioner was able to review his case. He was allowed his one phone call, which he made home to inform his wife about this arrest. His wife went to the police station with his identification, but he was still detained without bail until further notice. Released later that night, the charges of car theft and drug soliciting were dropped on the count of mistaken identity. Was Van racially profiled by the officer? I believe so in this case. We have a young man with a clean criminal record, who was trying to be a good husband by warming up his wife's car, being arrested on the count of looking Hispanic. Even in a case of mistaken identity, all of the charges should have been cleared when Van's wife was able to produce identification. In addition, finger prints were taken and background and security checks were done. Van's identity was clearly not that of someone one from the “most wanted” list. In order to be in accordance with our criminal justice system, Van should have been released immediately, as opposed to being detained for 24 hours. Van said that he felt humiliated and embarrassed as neighbors were watching him being handcuffed and thrown in the back of the police vehicle like a felon. The day of his arrest, Van said “Justice is blind!” He was disappointed to be an American Citizen.
What is the solution to a problem that affects so many minorities? A solution to racial profiling is discontinuing the practice of it because it is not an effective method of identifying criminals. Since September 11th terrorist threats, Arabs, Muslims and Islamic groups are highly screened at airport security. TSA agents are only targeting people that have tan skin and are wearing turbans. Criminals are smart. If wearing a turban will cause them to be profiled, they simply won't wear it. Another alternative to racial profiling is behavioral profiling, which is being able to screen and identify criminals by their character, behavior, and actions – including verbal or non-verbal signs. This will allow law enforcers to factor whether the individual is telling the truth. This process is similar to a human lie detector. For example to satisfy behavioral profiling standards, airline security would need to toughen up their questions: Where are you headed? How long will you be there? What is the purpose of your trip? Is this the only luggage you have? Etc. Then, airport security could see how the passenger responds and if they exhibit any of the following signs: anxiousness, indicators of stress, fear, lack of eye contact, hands twitching, changes in voice tone and pitch, stuttering, constant eye blinking, nervousness, excessive perspiration, defensive body gesture (crossing the arm stiffly or holding hand in a tight fist), and avoidance of questions, etc. These are behaviors typical of someone who is evading the truth. Another behavior profiling method to focus on is large cash transactions and handling. Cash transactions are harder to trace. This is suspicious because the criminal can easily be a drug dealer or courier. Another suspicious behavior to observe for is lack of eye contact. For example, at traffic stop, if a driver who is trying to hide something won't look into the police officer's eyes. In order for behavioral profiling to be effective, extensive training by law enforcers is mandatory. Education and training is important because it will help them to identify psycho-social signs of behaviors, but to understand cultural awareness, too. Here is an example of cultural awareness. Asians do not make eye contact when address by authorities. That is because in their culture, direct eye contact with an authority figure is a sign of disrespect; it is a sign that you are challenging your authorities. Why not look at the behaviors of individuals across the board? Is there behavior and physical evidence that this person is committing or will be committing a crime?
In conclusion, racial profiling is wrong and should not be tolerated. It is an unethical practice in the criminal justice system fueled by one's prejudice beliefs. People should be judged based on their actions, character and behaviors, and not by a stereotype based on race or ethnicity. In the legal system “innocent until proven guilty” is the philosophy. Lady Justice, a blindfolded woman holding a scale in one hand and a sword in the other, symbolizes that philosophy. She is to remind us that law is non-racial. Every human being should be given a fair chance and the benefit of the doubt.
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