Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dimensions of Racial Profiling & Institutionalized Racism in the U.S.

Racial profiling is a law enforcement practice that refers to law enforcement officials substituting race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion, to any degree, for probable cause in deciding whether to engage in enforcement. By this definition, and by its nature, racial profiling is a matter of ethics, at its core. In other words; discretion is the right to decide or act according to one’s own judgment. A person certainly has a right to make his or her own judgments. This is not the problem, however. The problem is deeper than that. If the person’s core beliefs and ideals are immoral or unethical then their judgment will be distorted, consequently.

Racial profiling is based on the invalid assumption that a particular race or ethnicity engages in misconduct more than other races or ethnicities. According to Randall Kennedy of Harvard Law School, the practice of racial profiling exacerbates racism in society, and leads to the abuse and harassment of racial minorities. So, fundamentally, this practice tears at the very fabric of American ideals. Racial profiling is the product of unethical and immoral ideals and beliefs in action. It holds the belief that certain races are more prone to violence and criminal behavior without the actual science to back this up, which in many ways constitutes this belief as incoherent and invalid.

In fact, racial profiling has proven to be ineffective in the war on drugs. In 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that while officers focused on African American and Latino drivers in an effort to thwart highway-bound drug couriers, they found drugs more often when they searched whites (17 percent) than when they searched African Americans (8 percent). Similarly in the state of New Jersey, state troopers found drugs in vehicles driven by whites 25 percent of the time, by African Americans 13 percent, and by Latinos 5 percent of the time.

Most citizens expect criminal justice professionals to conduct themselves in an efficient and professional manner without expressing personal views and emotions. And because law enforcement is a profession, ethics and ethical conduct play an important role. Hence, this is why each of these professionals must adhere to a strict code of ethics and a code of conduct. The code of ethics states that an officer’s fundamental duty, among other things, is to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and respect the constitutional rights of all to liberty, equality, and justice. By conducting racial profiling, officers and authorizing departments are engaging in unethical, immoral, and unconstitutional behavior.

Racial profiling, in essence, is a result of beliefs, traditions, and stigmas that have been passed down through many generations. Racial profiling acts are not merely acts of profiling, but rather a testimony to the systematic racism that exists in America. For instance, simply stopping the practice of profiling would do little to change society’s underlying racist views and institutionalized racism that exists in America and thus does little to alter the attitudes that lead to police abuse.

American economist, Richard Zeckhauser, and Professor of Philosophy, professor of philosophy at Harvard University, identify racial profiling as a utilitarian issue (in terms of consequentialist and non consequentialist arguments). The utilitarian argument for racial profiling assumes certain crimes are committed disproportionately by certain racial groups. Kennedy argues that those who practice racial profiling have omitted the consequence of such a practice—the feeling of resentment among minorities, the sense of hurt, and the increasing loss of trust in the police (Kennedy, 1998). Most Nonconsequentialist arguments tend to enter the debate by way of rights and fairness-based objections to profiling.

The human mind was designed to fill gaps and make assumptions about the information coming into the brain. Our past influences the way we judge people; we relate people’s looks to their personality; we believe that others are like us, and our beliefs affects our judgment. It all starts with first impressions. People are forced to make snap decisions based on information that is coming our way. This is actually a defense mechanism that helps people stay out of harms way. However, this mechanism, much like any other, can steer people in the wrong direction when used incorrectly. When navigating this system people should understand and be aware that there are many things, such as stereotyping, that have the strong potential to highly affect our judgments.

According to a recent federal study, Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be searched and arrested during routine traffic stops. Similarly, a 2007 Bureau of Justice Statistics study showed that police were much more likely to threaten or use force against blacks and Hispanics than against whites in any encounter, whether at a traffic stop or elsewhere. “The numbers are very consistent” with those found in a similar study of police-public contacts in 2002, by bureau statistician Matthew R. Durose.

White people between the ages of 18 and 25 use marijuana at a higher rate than their black peers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; yet, blacks are arrested for marijuana usage at a much higher rate than Whites. For example, a 2010 report found that police in California’s biggest cities arrested blacks for possession at four-five, and even 13, times the rate of whites. Overall, research shows Black people in the U.S. are three times more likely than White people to be arrested and 10 times more likely to be jailed for drugs offenses, according to new research claiming to show the racial bias of the criminal justice system. What’s more disturbing is that there’s NO EVIDENCE showing that Blacks use or deal more drugs than Whites, which makes the war on drugs seem more like the war on Blacks.

In the 1970s, when racism was much more out in the open and some would say more prevalent, there were 133,226 Blacks in prison. Today there are nearly 1 million Blacks in prison (2010), (Approx. an eightfold increase). According to the 2010 census of the US Census Bureau blacks comprised 12.6% of the US population, yet, account for 39.4% of the total prison and jail population. In 2009 Black males were incarcerated at the rate of 4,749 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents of the same race and gender, while White males were incarcerated at the rate of 708 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. In fact, more Black men are in prison or in jail, on probation, or on parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began. “Most of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color,” said Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

On December 31, 2005, there were 2,193,798 people in U.S. prisons and jails. The United States incarcerates a greater share of its population (737 per 100,000 residents) than any other country on the planet, by far. The U.S. has more people in prison than some industrialized countries have people. But when we break down the statistics we see that incarceration is not an equal opportunity punishment.

U.S. incarceration rates by race (June 30, 2006):

• Whites: 409 per 100,000
• Latinos: 1,038 per 100,000
• Blacks: 2,468 per 100,000

Gender (June 30, 2006):

• Females: 134 per 100,000
• Males: 1,384 per 100,000

Males by race (June 30, 2006):

• White males: 736 per 100,000
• Latino males: 1,862 per 100,000
• Black males: 4,789 per 100,000

Males aged 25-29 and by race (June 30, 2006):

• White males ages 25-29: 1,685 per 100,000.
• Latino males ages 25-29: 3,912 per 100,000.
• Black males ages 25-29: 11,695 per 100,000. (That’s 11.7% of Black men in their mid-to-late 20s.)

Or you can make some international comparisons:

South Africa under Apartheid was internationally condemned as a racist society.

• South Africa under apartheid (1993), Black males: 851 per 100,000
• U.S. under George Bush (2006), Black males: 4,789 per 100,000

What does it mean that the leader of the “free world” locks up Black males at a rate 5.8 times higher than the most openly racist country in the world?