Thursday, September 1, 2011

Profiling in America

Profiling in America has become a huge mess.  On the one hand, you have people who think that it should be okay to profile someone because of their race or religion.  For example: subjecting young Muslim men to more scrutiny in regards to terrorism.  On the other hand, you have people who say it's counter-productive and unconstitutional.  I stand in the middle on this subject.  It does violate the US Constitution.  But does it work?

I worked with a former police officer, who told me about staking out the airport to look for people who had outstanding warrants.  They looked for a specific type of person with certain tattoos and manner of dress.  And they picked up a lot of people who had warrants that way.  The problem comes in when you stop looking at tattoos or clothes, which can be chosen, and look at skin color or religion.  If you want to profile a gang member in some areas, it may be a young black man wearing certain colors or types of clothes.  In other areas it may be Hispanic men.  And that is considered racial profiling.  And it's illegal.  If you want to profile a terrorist, it's probably young Muslim men, with brown skin.  And that is also racial/religious profiling.

The Constitution guarantees equality for all men, but sometimes that's not how it really works out.  If you're a young black man in baggy pants, there are people who will automatically think you're in a gang or selling drugs.  Even if you're really just a student.  If you have brown skin and a name like Muhammad, there are people who think you're a terrorist or at the very least trying to impose Sharia law on Americans.

Slate has a very interesting article on the subject of profiling terrorists.  It seems as though the American Muslims most likely to lean towards terrorism are actually black.  So what does this do to the profiling situation?  In 2008 Juan Cole wrote a very good article about how profiling actually doesn't work.  He also mentions several of the supposed terror plots that were not really terror plots, but got hyped up by profiling.

So where does this leave us?  How do we reconcile our belief in civil liberties, with our need for safety and security?  Does it make sense to have actual computerized random searches at the airports, when guards end up searching 5-year-olds, or Amish women, when you're looking for Muslim terrorists?  In my mind, it doesn't.  But I don't like the alternative of just searching Muslims either.  Surely there is some kind of middle ground where we don't violate people's rights just because of their skin color or religion?  Because it's hard enough to be a Muslim in America these days. 

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