In the recent past, the US has witnessed a wave of protests in response to police brutality. These protests follow the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African American man, by the police. The killing and the subsequent protests have prompted the US to engage in a conversation about law enforcement. In particular, the nation is holding discussions about how the criminal justice system treats people of color. Racial profiling is among the topics that have formed part of these discussions. To understand why the American law enforcement and criminal justice systems are so dysfunctional, one simply needs to examine racial profiling.
Racial Profiling Definition
The Southern Poverty Law Center is among the organizations that are working tirelessly to tackle racial profiling. In its report on this phenomenon, this organization defines racial profiling as an unconstitutional practice in which law enforcement officials focus their attention on individuals on the basis of their race (SPLC, 2018). For instance, suppose that an officer spots a group of African American men. Suspecting that they are involved in a crime, the officer approaches the men and proceeds to harass them. The officer engages in harassment despite lacking evidence that the men are committing a crime. This example shows that racial profiling sees police officers target racial minorities. It should be understood that racial profiling is not confined to law enforcement and the criminal justice system. This phenomenon can also manifest in such other areas as housing and employment. For instance, a manager may refuse to hire people of color because of their racial identity. In essence, racial profiling is said to have occurred when one is targeted for mistreatment and discrimination because of their skin color.
Examples of Racial Profiling
Examples can help to further illustrate racial profiling. American history is replete with instances of racial profiling. For instance, under the leadership of the then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City introduced a stop and frisk policy. According to Bloomberg, the policy was designed to tackle a crime that had plagued the city for years. However, the enforcement of this policy laid bare the racial profiling problem that afflicted the city’s law enforcement. This policy was used to target African American and Hispanic men. Many of these men were stopped and frisked by police officers who had no basis to believe that the men posed a threat to public safety (Southall & Gold, 2020). The New York City stop and frisk policy highlight the damage that can result when police officers are authorized to target individuals from particular communities.
Another example of racial profiling when an African American is treated with suspicion despite not engaging in any behavior that invites the suspicion. For instance, consider a scenario where an African American male is shopping at an upscale clothing store. Drawn to the man, a security guard closely monitors his movements. The officer goes as far as to harass the man and demands that he leaves the store. While this example is fictional, it reflects the experiences of people of color in the US. The example demonstrates how racial stereotypes are used to subject communities of color to unfair treatment. There is no question that the US needs to move with speed to root out all forms of racial profiling.
Strategies for Stopping Racial Profiling
There are a number of highly effective strategies that the US could adopt to tackle racial profiling in all settings where it occurs. Requiring officers to use stop forms is among these strategies (Rights International Spain, 2018). Essentially, stop forms refer to documents that police officers should be required to fill out when they stop or arrest an individual. In the document, the officer should provide the personal details of the individual, including the reason for the stop or arrest. The purpose of the stop forms is to pile pressure on police officers to dissuade them against making arbitrary and racially-motivated stops and arrests (Rights International Spain, 2018). Instituting independent oversight is another measure that holds promise in tackling racial profiling. Basically, the operations of police departments and officers should be monitored by independent oversight bodies. These bodies should be charged to give special attention to racial profiling. They should be authorized to issue indictments and demand corrective action when they observe officers engaging in racial profiling.
Perhaps the most promising solution that law enforcement agencies can implement is improving their relations with communities. For instance, today, the relations between the police and the African American community are strained. This state of affairs is the result of years of police brutality and racial profiling. As a result of the strained relations, it is nearly impossible for the police to join forces with African Americans and other communities of color to fight crime and secure neighborhoods. According to Rights International Spain (2020), there is a need for law enforcement agencies to invest in programs designed to bolster their interactions with communities and the general public. For instance, police departments can hire more black officers and charge them with seeking to regain the trust of the public. Furthermore, the departments need to move away from heavy-handed, brutal, and needlessly aggressive policing interventions. Instead, they should adopt strategies that place a greater focus on dialogue and conversation.
In conclusion, racial profiling is among the major problems that continue to plague policing in the US. As a result of this problem, dozens of people of color have lost their lives. Furthermore, racial profiling has harmed the relations between the police and communities. It is clear that the US cannot effectively protect communities unless it takes steps to eradicate racial profiling. Law enforcement agencies should be at the forefront of reaching out to communities of color and persuade them to join the campaign to fight crime.
Rights International Spain. (2018). Solutions to the use of racial profiling by police. Civil Liberties Union of Europe. https://www.liberties.eu/en/news/ethnic-profiles-solutions/15200
Southall, A., & Gold, M. (2020). Why ‘stop-and-frisk’ inflamed black and Hispanic neighborhoods. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/17/nyregion/bloomberg-stop-and-frisk-new-york.html
Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). (2018). Racial profiling in Louisiana. Unconstitutional and counterproductive. https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/leg_special_report_racial_final.pdf