For the past several decades the emphasis in policing has been building trust in the community. Making the streets safe for everyone requires mutual cooperation between the general public and the police. Without community support, the police cannot do it alone. In this regard, respect as been shown to be a better tool for decreasing crime than fear and when fear is present residents tend to avoid contact with local police officials and other government officials that the residents believe may check on their immigration status or the status of family members. Information from these groups regarding criminal activities in their community is non-existent. Respect between law enforcement and community members is far more conducive to developing a good and lawful environment and involving local authorities in immigration enforcement creates an aura of fear. Auras that even the best law enforcement officials will have difficulty overcoming.
The process of racial profiling not only causes problems for law enforcement in enforcing the laws but it also serves as an infringement on the civil rights of the profiling victims. Being stopped and frisked based solely because of one's race or ethnicity may be considered only a minor annoyance but when it such minor annoyance is directed at a specific race or ethnicity it must be considered to be a violation of the profiled victim's equal protection rights. Members of all racial and ethnic groups have the right to expect to be treated like all other groups and when profiling is used by the police this expectation is violated.
In many states and communities legislation has been passed that prohibits the use of racial profiling by their law enforcement agencies. In several others, however, notably Arizona and Alabama, the practice has been actually encouraged. This has led to debate and uneasiness leading to increased levels of prejudice and resentment.
The Arizona statute that virtually mandates racial profiling is a classic example of the problems that the process creates. The Arizona statute requires police officers to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they have a reasonable suspicion may be present in the country illegally. The Arizona legislature, likely in reaction to the public outrage caused by the statute requiring the immigration inquiry, passed legislation prohibiting any police action based on race or ethnicity, but said legislation has had little effect. Instead, the Arizona law enforcement agencies have continued to exercise their authority under the latter statute. What has effectively happened is that Arizona legal authorities are being asked to enforce a law that steps on the civil rights of everyone in Arizona that is Hispanic or even remotely appears to be Hispanic. Regardless if one's family has lived in the United States one day or three generations he or she is subject to the same level of suspicion. Living in Arizona and being Hispanic now means being always subject to possible stop or questioning. The privilege of anonymity so longer treasured by most Americans is forever lost for Arizonian Hispanics or persons who look Hispanic. Unfortunately, Arizona appears to be only the first state considering such a stance. Reportedly a number of other states are considering the enactment of similar type legislation (Weigel, 2010). This is a result that will be a tragedy for the Hispanic community specifically and the United States society in general.
Racial profiling is a social practice that is repressive and undemocratic in nature. It uses group characteristics and applies it to individual racial and ethnic minorities. In recent years this process has been used extensively against the Hispanic and Mexican-American communities in the United States. Its use has been used to impute negative behavior to an entire population of people and caused them to be subject to suspicion-based entirely on their ethnic heritage.
The entire process of racial profiling is unjust but, not surprisingly, it is applied against those in society most vulnerable to attack and least likely to effectuate any political or social pressure to prevent its enforcement. In the case of the Hispanic and Mexican-American communities they are presently, as they were in during the Great Depression, being used as source of blame for at least part of the struggling U.S. economy. Racial profiling serves to reinforce this blaming process by associating deviant behavior with a population group. Because their behavior is labeled as deviant treating them unfairly through profiling is less troublesome.
The entire profiling process is based on the mistaken belief that all Mexican-Americans are drug smugglers or undocumented aliens (Aguirre, 2004). This belief causes damage to the reputation of all Mexican-Americans and Hispanics as the belief naturally extends to anyone who appears to be Mexican-American. Profiling effectively results in denying Mexican-Americans the opportunity to fully participate in the activities of their community in that it subordinates their position. Profiling labels Mexican-Americans and Hispanic as deviant and forces them to live their lives in a style that forces them to defend themselves against false images. Such a life marginalizes them as Americans. Their lives are only a portion of what they should be.
Profiling, regardless of its allegedly good intentions, has served to perpetuate bigotry and prejudice in America. It serves to diminish any progress that has been made toward achieving racial and ethnic equality and it destroys the any claim that there is equal protection under the law for all Americans. It perpetuates a caste system and sends a message to the rest of the world that the United States fails to live by its ideals. With the use of profiling now to combat terrorism there is even less concern among the general public that the use of profiling should be prohibited. Proponents of the use of profiling cite polls that indicate the general public's support for profiling as a means of law enforcement but such support was also present in the deep South during the days of segregation. It was not called profiling in those days but the effect was the same. It took years of civil disobedience to overcome the legal enforcement and effects of segregation and, if profiling is allowed to continue, a similar approach will be necessary to combat the effects of profiling.
White Americans do not feel that profiling affects them and so there is no popular outrage against its use. Fear is the instrument driving its use and because it is being used against minorities too powerless to effectively object and proponents say it is a small price to pay. What these proponents fail to realize is that it makes every person of Hispanic descent a suspected criminal and it perpetuates stereotypes.
Profiling in the United States must be stopped. It tears at the very framework of the American system of justice and resurrect attitudes regarding minorities that American society has worked hard and long to eradicate. Being the member of a minority should not automatically place one in the position of being a suspected criminal and that it is precisely what profiling does. The freedom to walk down the street in America free from fear of being stopped, frisked, or questioned should be available to everyone. Presently that it is not the case and the fact that profiling is allowed to be used in any form is a black mark on the soul of all Americans.
Aguirre, A. (2004). Profiling Mexican-American Identity: Issues and Concerns. The American Behavioral Scientist, 928-942.
Friedersdorf, C. (2010, May 18). The Best Case Against Arizona's Immigration Law: The Experience of Greater Phoenix. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/special-report/the-future-of-the-city/archive/2010/05/the-best-case-against-arizonas-immigration-law-the-experience-of-greater-phoenix/56859/
Harris, D. (2010, June 17). Ending Racial Profiling: Necessary for Public Safety and the Protection of Civil Rights. (U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee)
Jadallah, D. (2010). State Power and the Constitution of the Individual: Racial Profiling of Arab-Americans. Arab Studies Quarterly, 218-237.
Ngai, M. (2004). Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Rudovsky, D. (2002). Breaking the pattern of racial profiling. Tiral, 29-36.
U.S. Department of Justice. (2003, November 1). Compendium of Federal Justice Statistics, 2001. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=599
Weigel, D. (2010, April 29). Arizona Law Inspires Copycats…