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Racial profiling has a long history in the United States. It remains a deeply concerning national problem, despite many claims that the country is now free from racial prejudice. Racial profiling is a crime that occurs on a daily basis, with many people not even realizing it. Every day, law enforcement agencies target people of color for interrogations, detain and remove them from the street, and conduct invasive searches based on nothing aside from personal perceptions on race and religion. Racial profiling is both invasive, illegal, and notoriously ineffective. More often than not, the people falling under it are innocent, which alienates them from the police and undermines their trust in the local government and law enforcement agencies (Racial profiling, 2016). This paper is dedicated to studying the phenomenon of racial profiling, giving definitions for key terms associated with the problem, and assessing the impact of cultural diversity on law enforcement practices.
Part 1 – Caution against Ranking
The FBI is involved in almost all law enforcement activities. It conducts annual surveys and studies regarding crime rates in various cities. At the beginning of every report, however, there is an interesting note. The FBI addresses the readers, who are “cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual reporting units from cities, metropolitan areas, states, or colleges or universities solely on the basis of their population coverage or student enrollment” (Caution against ranking, 2010).
While the reports are available to the public and the mass media, few people actually bother reading beyond the initial surveys, only paying attention to tables and graphs. News articles covering the issue are rarely thorough, only using the very basic and preliminary information to construct tourist ratings, “top 10s”, and other lists of cities based on criminal activity, racial nature of the crime, and other issues. The problem with this is that the basis upon which these lists are compiled is too broad and misleading. As the FBI stated in its explanation, there are many variables that affect crime rates within certain areas, which includes population density, effective numbers of legal agencies, proximity to prison facilities, and many other factors (Caution against ranking, 2010). Misinterpreting or completely ignoring these facts and underlying issues would not only confuse the readers, but also contribute to painting entire neighborhoods, cities, and regions as criminal. In addition, misinterpretation of information plays a big role in furthering racial and criminal profiling.
For example, the stereotype of black people being more prone to crime stems solely from the fact that more than half of convicts are African American. However, these graphs often do not show the nature of the crimes committed. Many people end up in prisons for minor offenses, like using and possessing drugs – a result of the War on Drugs campaign that did very little to stop the actual drug flow. The warning at the beginning of the report is there to prevent journalists, students, and researches from making false assumptions based on inconclusive data.
Part 2 – Definitions
There is a number of basic terms and definitions used to describe hate crimes and racial profiling. These are:
Prejudice – prejudice is a negative opinion formed about a person or a group, based upon one of their personal characteristics, such as gender, values, beliefs, age, and many others. It is commonly used to justify violent actions (Criminal justice information services, 2015).
Stereotype – stereotyping means attributing certain qualities and agendas to certain groups of people. While the term is not inherently negative, and may sometimes reflect reality, it is a common source of prejudice (Criminal justice information services, 2015).
Discrimination – discrimination is commonly defined as unfair treatment of one group in favor of the other. Discrimination is often justified by stereotypes or prejudice (Criminal justice information services, 2015).
Racism – a practice that involves discrimination, stereotyping, and prejudice of an individual or a group based upon their race (Criminal justice information services, 2015).
Sexism – a practice that involves discrimination, stereotyping, and prejudice of an individual or a group based on their gender (Criminal justice information services, 2015).
In-group – a member or members of a certain group, organization, or society, who are viewed favorably due to membership in said group (Criminal justice information services, 2015).
Out-group – individuals outside of a group, organization, or society, who are viewed with prejudice for not being part of said group (Criminal justice information services, 2015).
Conformity – an act of adherence to certain rules, norms, morals, and behavior patterns attributed to the group (Criminal justice information services, 2015).
Institutional support – a kind of support provided to certain groups of people depending on their physical, psychological, or financial status (Criminal justice information services, 2015).
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Social categorization – an act of assigning an individual or a group of people to a certain social group based on appearance, race, gender, age, manner of speech, and many other personal qualities (Criminal justice information services, 2015).
There is a difference between personal prejudice and institutional prejudice. While these definitions are connected one to another, institutional prejudice refers solely to discriminatory practices by the government officials, such as police officers, doctors, teachers, and others. Sometimes, institutional prejudice is reaffirmed by discriminatory laws, and sometimes – by a lack of any laws pertaining discrimination. In the USA, institutional prejudice based on race was common practice until the 1960s, when Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters won the battle against racism Martin Luther King Jr, 2016).
Stereotypes can greatly influence the perception of events by the general public. Without details about the background of an individual or a group of individuals, people fill the gaps with stereotypes. If the stereotype is negative, the public may feel less sympathetic to a victim of an offense or assault.
In the training guide, the common stereotypes about minority groups are written in a careful and a neutral language, without giving any particular minority a negative connotation. Descriptions follow with lists of common insults in order for the officer to be able to identify hate crimes.
There are four psychological motivations underlying prejudice. These are self-esteem, positive distinction, survival, and meaning. The roots of prejudice, racism, and discrimination are often found in a desire to boost self-esteem by discriminating others, find meaning and purpose, and subconsciously contribute to the survival of one’s own group through suppressing the other groups or individuals (Routledge, 2010).
Part 3 – Cultural Diversity and Law Enforcement
Racial and ethnic discrimination exist during arrest. There is a correlation between the number of hate crimes and the number of minorities occupying the same territory – frictions between different groups often serve as incitements for prejudice and discrimination. The justice system in the US is often accused of systematic racism towards the African-American population. This creates a cycle of hate – the law enforcers treat minorities like criminals, and the minorities respond with deviant behavior out of anger and spite, which in turn reinforces the stereotypes adopted by the law enforcers (An overview of labelling theory, 2016). In order to stop this cycle, the justice system must be made aware of its own prejudices, and individual officers must constantly assess their actions to identify potential prejudice and discrimination, even if it happens on a subconscious level.
An overview of labelling theory. (2016). Web.
Caution against ranking. (2010). Web.
Martin Luther King Jr. (2016). Web.
Racial profiling. (2016). Web.
Routledge, C. (2010). Exploring the psychological motives of racism. Web.