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Why Arizona should "racially profile"

By Selwyn Duke
web posted May 24, 2010

When the Times Square bombing suspect was first reported to be a "white male," I shook my head.  I knew that, despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg's asinine musings about how the perpetrator was probably "homegrown" and perhaps someone upset about the healthcare bill, this was nonsense.  "It's about as likely as a story about Bill Clinton becoming a monk," I thought. 

Of course, this was no great insight.  Given that 99 percent of the terrorists bedeviling us today are non-white Muslims, it was just common sense — otherwise known as profiling.

The critics of Arizona's new immigration law complain that it will lead to "racial profiling."  In response, the law's defenders point out that the legislation specifically forbids the practice.

Both groups are wrong.

They accept two false suppositions.  The first is that the practice in question is immoral.

The second is that "racial profiling" actually exists.

Generally speaking, it does not — that is, not in the sense of a phenomenon widespread enough to warrant continual media attention.  In reality, there are only two kinds of profiling: good profiling and bad profiling.  Let's discuss the difference.

Profiling is simply a method by which law enforcement can determine the probability that an individual has committed a crime or has criminal intent.  Now, when making this assessment, many different factors are considered.  Some have to do with age, sex, dress, behavior, the car being driven, whether or not a person is "out of place" (e.g., a well-dressed fellow in a BMW cruising a drug-plagued neighborhood), and, yes, some have to do with race.  But whatever the criteria, good profiling chooses them in accordance with sound criminological science.  And as soon as we subordinate that standard to anything, such as political or social concerns, we have rendered it bad profiling.

We also render it unfair.  That is, contrary to the notion that using racial factors in profiling is discriminatory, in the negative sense of the word, it is actually the refusal to consider them that is so. 

I'll explain.  I'm a member of one of the most profiled groups in the country: males.  Law enforcement views us much more suspiciously than females because we commit an inordinate amount of crime.  And we aren't the only ones, as youths also attract a jaundiced eye for the same reason.  Now, if considering race when profiling is "racism," isn't considering sex and age "sexism" and "ageism"?  

The truth is that none of these things are any kind of ism.  And is it just to discriminate among higher-crime-incidence groups — scrutinizing some more closely but not others — based on whether they are in or out of favor politically and socially? 

This is where the capital-D discrimination lies.  If you're male or a teen, you're fair game.  But, for instance, when the matter is Muslims, the double standards fly.  When seeking to identify terrorists, the people who have no problem placing the probing eye on males warn that Muslims mustn't receive extra scrutiny.  But why?  As far as the terrorist threat facing the West goes, "Muslim" is a more consistent part of the terrorist profile than is "male," as there have been more female suicide bombers than non-Muslim ones.

Some may say we must be especially sensitive with regard to race (yes, I realize "Islamic" isn't a race), but this is silly for two reasons.  First, it is a hang-up; it is suicidal to sacrifice blood on the altar of political correctness.  Second, there is no blanket refusal to consider racial factors when profiling.  For example, part of the profile for serial killers and methamphetamine dealers is "Caucasian."

Likewise, given that more than 90 percent of the illegals in Arizona hail from Mexico and Latin America, isn't "Hispanic" part of the relevant profile here?  Mind you, the operative word is "part."  To say "This person appears to be of Mexican descent, so he must be illegal" is no different than assuming that every white person deals meth — it would be bad profiling.  But just as a meth dealer will usually exhibit characteristics that distinguish him from Morris the accountant, an illegal alien is usually distinguishable from an acculturated Hispanic American.

And what if you're a citizen who doesn't exhibit the differences or one who can't distinguish them?  If the former, now you know why assimilation matters.  And what of the latter?  Then you aren't qualified to profile professionally.

Nevertheless, society needs those who are.  As Dr. Walter Williams once wrote:

What about using race or ethnicity as proxies for some unobserved characteristic?  Some racial and ethnic groups have a higher incidence of mortality from various diseases than the national average.  In 1998, mortality rates for cardiovascular diseases were approximately 30 percent higher among black adults than among white adults.  Cervical cancer rates were almost five times higher among Vietnamese women in the United States than among white women.  The Pima Indians of Arizona have the highest known diabetes rates in the world.  Prostate cancer is nearly twice as common among black men as white men.

My, those "racist" diseases.  Of course, race's and ethnicity's value as proxies isn't limited to physical disease but extends to so many things.  Just ask Jesse Jackson.  In 1993 he said, "There is nothing more painful to me . . . than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved."   

The reality is that we all profile.  For example, everyone (not just ol' Jena Jesse) has heard about something called a "suspicious-looking character."  Also, having been raised in New York City, I've often heard people be identified as "looking like tourists."  Now, what do you think these things mean?  We are able to thus categorize people only because we're all natural-born sociologists and psychologists; we all possess some understanding of man's behavior, of what is normal in a given situation, and can use this knowledge to help assess others' status and intent.  Who wouldn't be wary of someone with a buzz cut who sports a Swastika tattoo on his forehead?  Who can't identify an angry countenance as just that? 

Of course, these are obvious examples, and the more subtle the behavior and signs, the more discerning the observer must be to note and draw correct conclusions from them.  Regardless, this ability is good — and wholly necessary for survival.  It is no different from how we profile animals and would pet the sheep but not the wolf; it allows us to avoid danger, both to our person and the kind that could result in being wronged.  And when it's applied by the police, we call it "profiling."  Yet it is nothing but the application of common sense within the sphere of law enforcement.  Nevertheless, Jena Jesse and others would disallow good profiling and insist that the police check their common sense at the station-house door.

After Dr. Williams discusses how the prevalence of certain diseases correlates with race, he asks, "Would one condemn a medical practitioner for advising greater screening and monitoring of black males for cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer, or greater screening and monitoring for cervical cancer among Vietnamese American females, and the same for diabetes among Pima Indians?"

Unfortunately, when the matter is the social disease of crime, we not only condemn such a practice, we fire the good diagnosticians.  For example, in an older article about former attorney general John Ashcroft's investigation of 13 cities for "racial profiling" (thank you, George Bush), ABC reports on efforts to eradicate the practice and writes, "police officials who defended profiling have been removed from their posts."  Translation: Our security has been placed in the hands of PC lackeys.

Lest I be misunderstood, I don't say good profiling is the magic bullet for Arizona's illegal alien problem.  In point of fact, I presented more effective solutions in my piece "Immigration: Solutions, Not Excuses."  My point is a larger one: Whether the crime is violating borders, bodies or buildings, whether it's committed in Arizona or Anytown USA, good profiling is not just part of law enforcement. 

It's the heart law enforcement.

What do you think the legal standard of "reasonable suspicion" is?  What should the police be suspicious of?  Only males, teens, and whites in certain situations? 

The bigots are not those who support goodprofiling, which scrutinizes all groups in accordance with sound criminological science.  It is the Times Square bombing-analyst hopers (such as Contessa Brewer) who play pin the tale on the honkey, doing their best imitation of the three blind, deaf and mute monkeys.

America, we need to end our hang-up with race — before it ends us. ESR

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