What is profiling? Is it really bad? Here are four thoughts from all the years I’ve worked as both a prosecutor and Public Defender.
Profiling means that citizens are stopped by law enforcement—not because of suspected criminal behavior, but instead because of the person’s race, gender, or the way they walked. For years, courts and legislatures have allowed police to stop suspects if the police “have a factual basis to think a crime has been committed.” A good example is a cop who follows a car that weaving from side to side in the lane. The cop can suspect that the drive may be intoxicated and therefore, can legally stop the driver to investigate.
1. We all do it. All of us do our own “profiling” every day. It’s based on a life time of experience and learning. Often, it helps us avoid dangerous situations—or dangerous people. TSA screeners use profiling all the time at airports. The difference when law enforcement uses profiling is they have state-sanctioned power to arrest people. None of the rest of us have that power.
2. Racial profiling. Statistically, it’s been shown that people of color (and heavily male) are stopped much more often that while males—even though the same statistics show that people of color don’t commit any more serious crimes than whites. Clearly, there’s some amount of racial profiling going on with law enforcement.
3. High crime areas. Many residents of high crime areas ask for more police presence. And they also support more arrests for “nuisance” crimes. (These are petty offenses like loitering, disorderly conduct, curfew violations, etc.) This law enforcement profiling has the effect of cleaning up the streets by getting bothersome people out of the neighborhood—who may commit more serious crimes. Gangsters, drug sellers, etc. People in these high crime areas fully accept law enforcement profiling as they feel it helps keep crime down.
4. White don’t know. Some people have been surprised at the length and intensity of the protests that have occurred across the country against police violence. Although populated with white people as well as people of color, I don’t think us whites can fully understand the fear, humiliation, and stress that profiling causes to many of our citizens. Almost every middle-class black male I know has told me horror stories about being stopped and the fear they felt, not knowing what might happen to them—simply because of the law enforcement profiling.