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Racial profiling is a reality for many Americans today and an issue that generates a great deal of heated debate among politicians. Some of the supporters are maintaining that it can be a valuable crime-fighting tool sometimes, whilst opponents claim that it is an unjustifiable violation of the US’s Constitutional guarantees of equal rights to all. Racial profiling can be defined as a police practice of targeting people of color for criminal suspicion and thereof for police search and arrest. Racial profiling “has been primarily used to denote police bias and stereotypes in its law enforcement practices based on racial and ethnic consideration” (Kamalu, 2016, p. 190).
Generally, in social researches, the term “racial profiling” is used more broadly than criminal profiling, which requires the use of specific evidence. Usually, racial profiling involves not only police officers and security officials, but also other representatives of social institutions and average citizens, who treat other people on the grounds of their ethnicity or racial features. Typical targets of racial profiling in America are African Americans, Indians, Asians, and Muslims. So, the main causes and consequences for American society in general and for color minorities specifically will be discussed further.
The first and the most significant reason for the present situation concerning racial profiling may be referred to broadly as a “historically conditioned cause.” Its roots back to America’s complicated history of slavery, the legacy of slavery, and is based on a deeply ingrained idea of racial superiority. These historical features of American society formed the subconscious perception that people of color are worse than white people. In the twenty-first century, these misconceptions have been intensified by popular culture, negative media coverage, traditions, and, what is more important, by some tragic events and phenomena, such as terrorist attacks and global immigration.
For such a multicultural country like the USA, racial bias and prejudice represent a significant problem, and the question of race arises again. Turda and Quine (2018, p. 113) state that “…challenge that all Americans and Europeans face today … is to restore and preserve their increasingly diluted and weakened collective identities without pandering to rising xenophobia and chauvinism within individual nations.” Meanwhile, historically conditioned racial prejudice shapes new stereotypes and lead to grim consequences and ramifications.
The next group of reasons is inextricably connected to the previous one and can be called a “legislative.” The long history of discriminatory laws adopted and enforced became the solid ground for the disastrous disparities in American society. The contemporary situation around racial profiling is believed to stem mainly from the “War on Drugs,” which burst in the 1970-s (Glacer, 2015). The War on Drugs was declared by the US president Nixon, who formally sanctioned eradication, interdiction, and incarceration, which turned into a wave of arrests, primarily of black citizens. The government, as well as society, used to believe that the use of drugs is a culturally-based phenomenon that served as an excuse to target representatives of color minorities and was considered as the effective method of combating the problem of drugs.
Another discriminatory legislative initiative is immigration law enforcement, which started in 2002 under the Homeland Security Act, following the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, and focusing on Arabs and Muslims. The main goal was to eliminate any security vulnerabilities that might occur within the US borders. As well-known sociologist Glacer (2015, p. xi) claims, “The passage of state laws requiring local and state police to enforce immigration law is an incitement to ethnic profiling.” This initiative is known to have some repercussions, which will be viewed further.
Although the abovementioned causes are not exceptional, and there are other reasons for racial profiling, as there is no smoke without fire, only negative ones have been discussed. They threaten the stability of American society and deprive a great number of citizens of their civil and, what is worse, human rights, promised by the American Constitution. The most evident of these effects, divided into two categories according to the root causes, will be viewed below.
Historically conditioned causes, which include racial bias driven by stereotypes and prejudice, manifest themselves in so-called “white privilege,” social advantages for white people that translate into disadvantages for other nationalities. It turns out that people of color are far more likely to be suspected of criminal behavior and far more likely to receive harsh treatment if they are arrested for a crime. Unfortunately, according to Starr (2016), it is challenging to prove disparate-treatment discrimination by police. Hence, this results not only in violation of the constitutional rights of the local communities of color, but also has a detrimental psychological, economic, and political impact on them.
For instance, institutionalized profiling at work means that representatives of color minorities are considered less competent and less hardworking, which means they earn less money, which leads to poverty and make these people vulnerable to its effects. Whole communities become alienated and, therefore, unwilling to cooperate with the authorities to create a safer and happier environment.
The extremes of law enforcement resulted in soaring incarceration rates in America, disproportional numbers of which targeted people of color. The connection of drugs with black and Hispanic minorities thus has become a fixed stereotype forming a vicious circle. The assumption that minorities are more likely to commit offense justified the police force to subject representatives of black and Hispanic to a traffic stop, searches and arrests, and stiff penalties. The whole situation has precisely the opposite effect as it negatively affects crime prevention by undermining people’s trust in law and, as Clacer (2015) pointed out, hinders the crime investigation and increases crime because those who are not racially profiled feel emboldened to carry illegal and criminal activities.
Community and workplace raids, traffic arrests, and searches by police create an atmosphere of tension and hostility. Turda and Quine (2018, p. 98) claim that the significant consequence of immigration law enforcement is that “the employment of the crude techniques of racial profiling has resulted in stopping, searching, and detention of persons who were perceived to be, but were not, in fact, Arabs and Muslims, such as Sikhs and other South Asians.” Moreover, draconian methods of immigration law enforcement led to massive erroneous detentions of not only illegal immigrants but also the US citizens.
In summary, racial bias, as well as prejudice and stereotypes, are deeply ingrained into the public subconscious. Supported by the government in the form of wrongful institutional and economic practices, these attitudes influence the behavioral patterns of American citizens and thus, form a vicious circle. Therefore, the consequences of racial profiling manifest themselves in evidently massive disparities in the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights of people of color. The lack of scholarly publications shows that the issue of racial profiling remains unaddressed in contemporary American society and requires further studies, especially of methods of stereotype elimination, which could change the situation eventually.
Glacer, J. (2015) Suspect race: causes and consequences of racial profiling. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Kamalu, N.C. (2016) ‘African Americans and racial profiling by us law enforcement: an analysis of police traffic stops and searches of motorists in Nebraska, 2002-2007’, African Journal of Criminology & Justice Studies, 9(1), pp. 187-206.
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Starr, S.B. (2016) ‘Testing racial profiling: empirical assessment of disparate treatment by police’, University of Chicago Legal Forum, 2016(12), pp. 485-531.
Turda, M. and Quine, M.S. (2018) Historicizing race. London: Bloomsbury Academic.