Should the government do more to deter the police’s use of racial profiling?
The debate around racial profiling came to the forefront following the death of George Floyd, having many wondering whether this practice should be kept in place or eliminated.
Rise of the Issue
Racial profiling has existed for some time within the United States, but since the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests against police racism, racial profiling has been in the forefront of the general public. Proponents of using the state to deter police officers from racially profiling emphasize the discriminatory nature of this practice and the way institutional racism allows it to foster and grow. Proponents also point out that racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately victims of police violence and that it is racial profiling that often leads the police to the victim.
Opponents, however, argue that racial profiling is not an act of discrimination, but a determination based on the statistical likelihood of a certain group committing a certain act. Because opponents do not think racial profiling is based on racial animus, they also say that those statistical likelihoods are the basis for community policing, which purports to help minority communities.
A 2021 poll found 61% of Black Americans to have been discriminated against based on race, with only 39% of Latino Americans, and 15% of white Americans. Meanwhile, 77% of both Latino and white Americans are confident police officers can gain the trust of their community and only 46% of Black Americans agreed.
Terry v. Ohio was Decided
The Supreme Court held a police officer may, with “reasonable suspicion”, stop and frisk suspects if the officer believes the suspect to be "armed and presently dangerous", or if the officer believes the suspect to be about to commit a crime, have committed a crime, or be committing a crime.
The Anti-Drug Abuse Act
This act created major disparities in the sentencing between crack and powdered cocaine. Those found with crack cocaine, a substance much cheaper and one that was abused heavily in major cities across the U.S. by Black Americans, brought a much heavier sentence compared to powdered cocaine, which was used by wealthier white Americans.
Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
The crime bill is historically known to have been a major driving force behind mass incarceration within the U.S. and to target poorer communities, where crime is more prevalent and where a higher concentration of racial and ethnic minorities reside. In New York, due to the crime bill, 40,000 and 85,000 additional misdemeanor arrests were made per year between 1994 to 1998.
Supreme Court Decides Whren v. United States
In Whren v. United States, the Supreme Court found that any traffic offense that may occur can be followed legally by a stop and search, provided the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” an offense may have occurred.
United States v. Armstrong
The Supreme Court ruled disparities by race in convictions is constitutional unless it could be shown similarly situated defendants of different races were disparately prosecuted in the U.S.
Racial Protests Sweep the Nation
After the death of George Floyd, following the countless other Black Americans who died at the hands of law enforcement every year prior, Black Lives Matter and its allies organized a series of protests against racial profiling andpolice violence.
Proponents say community policing can push police to stay in minority neighborhoods to watch for crime, while opponents argue the communities police watch are the ones that, statistically, are most likely to be victims of crime.
Racially Charged Policing
Proponents say that the use of racial profiling by the police to target minorities is racist and leads to the over policing and criminalization of racial and ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, opponents argue the police are only watching the communities that most need their help and that using statistical data to do so is one way to effectively fight crime.
Those who believe the federal government should take action on racial profiling believe this practice leads to higher levels of police brutality, as certain groups are deemed to be of greater risk than others and that this warrants harsher treatment of said groups. While, opponents see cautious policing by racial profiling as a logical decision to make considering the statistical data available.
Racial profiling is an act of discrimination.
Racial profiling treats an officer’s gut feeling as a determination of guilt, requiring the person to prove their innocence, criminalizing the alleged suspect based off their race.
Racial and ethnic communities feel more unsafe.
If racial and ethnic minority communities know officers target them for stops or arrests, entire communities are and will be criminalized and isolated causing dissolution of national unity within the state and even the nation.
There is no guarantee crime will be deterred.
Officers who use racial profiling are still just guessing at who may have committed a crime based solely on their race or ethnicity, not probable cause.
Racial profiling can lead to other forms of discrimination.
If one’s race is enough to justify a stop, then so could religion, sexual, or sexual orientation, leading down a slippery slope of profiling, where the mere judgement of a police officer is enough to have you arrested.
Officers act before any crime occurs.
Racially profiling stops and searches occur not because an officer believes a crime was committed, but solely based on the suspect’s race or ethnicity, meaning the officer is judging the individual based on this factor and applying his own prejudices against a said group.
Local police know better.
Local police are more knowledgeable of their own communities than the federal government and racial profiling can help fight crime in their locale. Therefore, federal interference may cause more harm than good.
It is based on data.
Statistically speaking certain groups disproportionately commit more crimes than others, so targeting those groups makes it more likely crime can be countered.
Racial profiling helps minority communities.
Because police who use racial profiling target minority neighborhoods, with the aim of reducing and targeting crime, it is those same minority neighborhoods that can be most protected.
Racial profiling can make policing more efficient.
Because racial profiling can narrow down possible suspects, it means police can spend less time and money tracking down suspects and leads and put that money towards community initiatives that benefits said community.
Allowing police to do their job to the best of their ability.
Impeding the police and restricting them from doing their job could lead to more crime. We should provide all means possible, including racial profiling, to counteract crime.