Racial Profiling in Airports Term Paper

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Racial profiling in airports [...] how terrorist attacks in America call for increasing racial profiling in airports, similar to Israel's El Al Airlines racial profiling tactics. Racial profiling is a highly controversial topic, but some countries have found racial profiling helps keep people safer, and makes sense, while many political groups feel it is a clear violation of rights, and should never be used. Racial profiling may be controversial, but after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it may be one of the only reliable ways available to keep the country safe from further attacks.


In the days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, people in the United Sates were afraid. They were afraid of another attack, and they were angry. They were angry the government had not known about the attacks, and somehow stopped them. They were angry about the senseless killing of 3,000 innocent people in the name of "religion." Most of all, many were angry with Allah, and the Muslims who believed in him. Any Arab or person who looked Arab became the brunt of their hate and anger, and many began to urge racial profiling as a way to fight terrorism.

In brief, racial profiling is the practice of looking closely at someone, and deciding quickly whether they are a threat for violence or terrorism because of their race or appearance. There are certain "target" appearances that could tip off law enforcement, including race, but also including the person's manner, their luggage (or lack of it), their passport, and many other tip offs. One writer notes, "One need not consider race to the exclusion of all other factors to be engaged in racial profiling. Rather, a 'profile' will often contain a variety of factors: If one or more of them is race, then we have a racial profile" (Colb). While simply glancing at someone's appearance and deciding they are a criminal may seem ridiculous, in the right context, it can be the key to preventative measures and safety, which is why it is used in bag screening in airports, etc. In racial profiling, a person who looks suspicious may be pulled aside and searched more thoroughly at an airport security checkpoint. Racial profiling often comes under criticism as a violation of rights, but as one proponent of the practice writes, it is not illegal to use racial profiling. "Despite the hue and cry, there is nothing illegal about using race as one factor among others in assessing criminal suspiciousness" (Mac Donald). Using racial profiling could prove quite successful at weeding out the terrorists who plan further attacks on the country, as long as a reliable profile can be established, as this expert notes:

Unlike the drug trade, in which very large numbers of people -- of every race -- are involved, there is reason to think that relatively few individuals here are engaged in planning terrorist attacks on the United States. Therefore, any criteria police use to identify or "profile" terrorists, whether or not those criteria rely on suspect classifications such as race, ethnicity, or national origin, will yield many more false positives than they will disclose true conspiring murderers. In other words, an overwhelming number of "suspects" will prove to be innocent, no matter what combination of factors is used to focus in on them (Colb).

Despite the seeming benefits to safety racial profiling may provide, there are many groups who vehemently oppose the practice, no matter how it is used. The America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has introduced legislation in Congress that would limit the use of racial profiling in airports and other public entry points.

If passed, racial profiling legislation would require the Customs Service to collect data about the race, gender, and national origin or citizenship of individuals searched, and to report annually to Congress on those findings. This legislation would also mandate periodic training of Customs inspectors on detention and search procedures, with a particular emphasis on prohibiting racial profiling.

The ACLU feels that people "of color" are searched and detained more often in airports, and one African-American, Aquil Abdullah, agrees, as he is routinely stopped almost every time he travels by air. "He knows what the problem is. It's not hard to figure out - once he introduces himself. His name is Aquil Abdullah. Aquil Abdullah thinks his name is on a list somewhere of suspect people" (Schlesinger). Abdullah is an American athlete, who is the first to win the prestigious Henley Regatta in Britain, and ironically, he is not even Muslim, he is a Catholic. His story is not unusual, and groups such as the ACLU cite his experience as one of the reasons racial profiling is a violation of rights. Abdullah is stopped simply because of his name. However, in these tense and terrible times, it is better to be safe than sorry, and it is better to stop and check a person who could be a problem, rather than ignore them, which could perhaps lead to a deadly situation. Abdullah is confused about the issue. "I oscillate between thinking this is a good thing we have going on for security purposes and feeling that this is a horrible thing that we have'" (Schlesinger). This confusion is not surprising, but in the end, if profiling saves lives, it is a necessary "evil" that must continue.

Long a target of terrorist attacks; Israel has developed one of the most effective programs to ensure air safety, as one BBC writer notes,

Israel's national carrier El Al [...] spares no expense to create probably the most stringent airline security regime in the world. Wherever El Al flies, it has its own armed guards from check-in to final destination. At Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, passengers - in particular non-Israelis - are subjected to lengthy interrogations by highly-trained screeners while plain-clothes security officials watch for suspicious behaviour (Editors).

These measures seem to work quite effectively, as Israel's El Al has not been the victim of a terrorist attack in many years. Their security is not just confined inside the country. "Outside Israel, travellers experience extremely thorough searches of their luggage, including not just repeated X-rays but also swabs to test for explosives and lengthy questioning" (Editors). This may not be pleasant, but it is effective, and that is really the bottom line when it comes to airline safety. Had guidelines that are more stringent been in place before the September 11 attacks, including some form of racial profiling, the nineteen Arab men who brought down the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon might have been captured. Even after the attacks, airport security has missed many weapons, and even missed "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, whose passport was questionable, and who only carrying an overnight bag for an overseas flight. These were clues that should have rung an alarm, but Reid was only detained overnight, and then allowed to board a flight for the U.S. Unfortunately, Reid's case is not an isolated incident. Random checks of airport security around the nation shows an alarming number of weapons are missed in bag checks, as the BBC points out. "But overall in the 32 airports, inspectors found that knives were missed 70% of the time, guns 30% of the time and fake explosives 60% of the time by personnel at security checkpoints" (Editors). If security is that lax, then anything that can help the situation should be employed, including racial profiling. No matter how controversial the practice is, if it can help save lives, and give the public more peace of mind, it should be used, but used effectively.

Racial profiling is not the only answer in the war against terrorism, but it is certainly a tool that could be very effective if used correctly. The…

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