Racial Profiling


Understanding Racial Profiling

Racial profiling is gradually evolving nowadays among law enforcement officers and it implies the use of race, colour, and/or ethnicity as the basis for suspecting an individual for having committed an unlawful act. When police officers stop people in traffic for search or make arrests on the basis of colour or preconceived judgments, they are carrying out racial profiling. The majority of the victims of racial profiling in the U.S., have been people of colour such as Blacks, Hispanics and the Latinos. Several statistical research data in the U.S., and Canada show that people of colour are several times more likely to be stopped and searched or arrested by police officers which is a direct evidence that racial profiling is a significant basis for policing in these states and communities.

Legal Status of Racial Profiling

The Supreme Court of the United States gave a landmark judgment in 1996 to the effect that in the absence of any evidence that people of another race but in a similar situation were treated differently, racial profiling is constitutional and therefore lawful. This was in the case of the U.S. versus Armstrong. This particular ruling seemed to have provided a legal basis for the otherwise obnoxious practice in the United States but despite the decision, policies of law enforcement agencies still prohibit serving police officers from racial profiling. The Supreme Court ruling overturned an earlier ruling by the 9th Court Circuit that declared that dissemination of justice must proceed on the basis of equality before the law.

The arguments for and against Racial Profiling

There are those who advocate racial profiling on the basis that discernible patterns of crime on the basis of race or ethnicity actually exist and that the probability of crime or at least certain kinds of crimes being committed is higher among certain racial segments of the population. They argue that on this basis, effective policing will involve the application of discretion by police officers with emphasis on crime prevention, thereby providing admissible basis for racial profiling. It is believed for instance in certain quarters that Blacks are more likely to be involved in car jacks, thefts and murder, Latinos in violence and Arabs in terrorism. Application of the laws of probability, they argue, will result in more effective crime prevention. However, those who are against racial profiling are of the opinion that it undermines the very basis of justice which is equality before the law and the rule that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. They further argue that discriminatory policing creates fear, hatred and distrust in the minds of those discriminated against and therefore undermines the confidence which ought to be reposed in law enforcement agents. Moreover, available statistical evidence does not lend credence to the assertion that racial profiling increases the effectiveness of crime prevention and control.

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