Monday, March 31, 2008

Racial Profiling

Is it wrong for the police to profile people based on race? Is it ever an acceptable practice?

I was with some friends last night and we discussed a number of topics. All of us in the group are followers of Jesus. We all are involved in ministering to others through teaching, mentoring, service, etc.

One topic that came up was fighting crime. We were talking specifically about our neighborhoods on the west side of Chicago. Two of the brothers suggested that they have no problem with the police profiling people based on race.

For example, a white person walking or driving through a neighborhood that is known for selling drugs and predominately African-American in make-up. They thought it would be OK for the police to stop them and ask questions simply based on race. The assumption would be that the person was there to buy drugs. They also suggested that it was OK to stop a young black male in a car or walking in a predominately white neighborhood. The assumption would be that the person was up to no good - theft, drug dealing, etc.

They made very clear that they do not approve of the way the police often treat people in these situations, but that their profiling based on race, if done in a respectful and polite manner, would not be a problem to them. For instance if the situation ended like this - "Sorry for the inconvenience, hope that you have a nice evening".

I strongly disagreed with them personally.

But I want you to know that these are not uninformed individuals. Both of them grew up in Chicago. Both of them live on the west side of Chicago. Both of them are faithful followers of Christ. Both of them have had negative interactions with law inforcement for doing nothing, but "looking suspicious".

This does not give you the whole discussion or every side of the reasoning, but I want to know what you think about this issue.

Is it ever right for law enforcement to stop and question people based on race? White, Black, Arab, Mexican - there can be assumptions that come with each depending on the context. Is there a better way to fight crime, terrorism, drug dealing, etc.?


david rudd said...

my initial thought is to agree with you, Kevin. It just feels wrong for anyone to make a fundamental assumption about someone simply based on their appearance...

however, the way your friends explained it maybe works a little for me... particularly the respect part.

i wonder if there is a way to do "racial profiling" in a way that doesn't assume the worst?

all that said, it still doesn't "feel" right.

thowald said...

As long as they are respectful?! As long as there is a legitimate purpose?!

What happened to someone not being judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.

If we have a God who "does not see as man sees ;for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (I Sam. 7b)how can we as His followers condone behavior contrary to His standards.

On a more practical front how can begin to give loop holes for blatant racism to continue to rear its ugly head? What is respectful? What is a legitimate reason? What are the standards that are going to be set that says a police officer can use racial profiling for this purpose but not for that.

With all respect to your friends and their experiences I too have friends and family who have experienced racial profiling and it has never been productive.

Noel Edwin Cisneros Ritter said...


Great discussion starter. I have to say, that I can't think of any reason why that is ok. In order to stop someone police have to have (and be able to explain) "Reasonable Suspicion" (That's about all I remember from my Criminal Justics classes.)

Because of our racialized society you could make a case that someone of white person being in a black neighborhood or a white person being in a black neighborhood is suspicious.

But if you do, you are attacking one of the primary truths of our country and our faith "all are created equal".

We can't say that this is ok, the end never justify the means, and we know from history that racial profiling opens up opportunities for racial injustice.

KG said...

I appreciate the thoughts.

I seems that each of you (Dave,Tim,Noel) feel as I do that we just know that it isn't right. But there is also some understanding of how it happens because in our own mind we make the same assumptions.

I'll admit to being suspect of people based solely on race. White person walking down certain streets in my predominately black neighborhood. I often wonder if they are buying drugs. Or lost. Has anyone else had questions in their head about a person of Arab decent while in an airport?

So we know it is wrong. But we see these ideas in our own head too.

How do we work towards veiwing people as individuals? Is it wrong to use our experience with people to be cautious in the future of similar situations?

thowald said...

Yes I have categorized someone bu the color of their skin and their ethnicity (even someone of my same hue and ethnicity)and yes it was just as wrong when our law enforcement does it.

My initial reaction was one of repulsion and disgust and I still hold those feelings yet I know that it is a result of our fallen state.

So how do we see others as individuals? I think the easy answer is to look at them as God sees them. Yet, how do we do that practically.

I think we first need to stop making assumptions. As simple as this may sound I think it is a legitimate action that each of need to take.

That is my initial thought and as I said it is a very simple one. Kevin if your follow - up question was rhetorical I apologize but desired to hear other practical answers

KG said...

I would say that our assumptions, as you said Tim, are often just that. They are often wrong. As a result, they cause us to view people based on things that we often do not know for sure.

I agree that a big part is to question our assumptions. I think we should all be doing more of that.

I would say that I believe that caution based on experience is OK. I think it is OK to approach people with an internal caution, but with an open mind of optimism. We need to expect the best in people even when are experience reminds us to be prepared for the worst.