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July 31, 2005

"Racial" Profiling - Another View

In a thoughtful editorial, TUNKU VARADARAJAN talks about "racial" profiling:

After the terrorist bombings in London, and the revelations that many of the perpetrators were of Pakistani origin, I find that I am--for the first time in my life--part of a "group" that is under broad but emphatic visual suspicion. In other words, I fit a visual "profile," and the fit is most disconcerting.

One might, therefore, expect him (like Colbert King, who lives in an agony of fear that his black sons will be unfairly "victimized") to be against the practice. Strangely, however, he is not:

Terrorism has had many effects on society, and the foremost among them are philosophical, or spiritual. We are now called upon to adjust the way we live and think, and to do so we must also adjust the bandwidth of our tolerance. By this I don't mean that we must be less tolerant of others but that some among us must learn to tolerate--or put up with--hardships, inconvenience or a new set of presumptions, given the all-consuming nature of the threat we face, in which "the profiled" and "the profilers" alike are targets. In evaluating the moral fitness of "profiling," I should stress that we are identifying people for scrutiny, not punishment. Recall the fate of Cinna the poet, in the Bard's "Julius Caesar," who is killed by a mob that believes him, because of his name, to be Cinna the conspirator. When scrutiny becomes stigma, and stigma leads to victimization, a clear jump to evil has occurred. This has not happened in America, and must not.

But what of "profiling" as a forensic tool? Here, one must be satisfied either that profiling ought to be done or at least--per Bentham--that it isn't something that "ought not to be done." I am satisfied on the second count. The practice cannot be rejected with the old moral clarity. The profiling process is not precisely racial but broadly physical according to "Muslim type." (Does that make it worse or better?) The process under way now does not constitute racial profiling in the classic sense--Muslims, after all, come in flavors other than Pakistani, including white Chechens and black Somalis.

But there is no getting around profiling, surely, because of the life-or-death, instant decisions involved. So we have to ask one section of society to bear up under heightened scrutiny, asking them also to work extra hard--visibly so--to expunge the threat. Meanwhile, and just as important, we must ask the rest of society not to stigmatize those who conform to the broad physical category while also not allowing feelings of racial and moral guilt to slow our society's response to danger.

Imagine that. This man has far more reason than Colbert King to fear the ill effects of profiling. Yet he seems to understand that there are other dangers out there. That perhaps law enforcement and a Republican administration are not the greatest threats to Western civilization. That it just might be the suicide bomber that has brought us to this pass.

Ironically, I can understand a certain amount of paranoia in light of some of our legal provisions regarding permanent detention of terrorism suspects.

It is strange to me that Mr. King never makes this argument. It is even more strange to me that flaws in the Patriot Act continue to be conflated with George Bush and John Ashcroft rather than with Congress, which drafted the Act and voted for its approval overwhelmingly before promptly turning tail and criticizing it as thought it had been foisted on them by Nazi Germany.

George Bush did not draft the Patriot Act. The administration merely called on our elected representatives to act. John Kerry himself authored many of the provisions of the Patriot Act, voting for it before he discovered (on the campaign trail) grave reservations that caused him to come out firmly foregainst it:

""We are a nation of laws and liberties, not of a knock in the night. So it is time to end the era of John Ashcroft. That starts with replacing the Patriot Act with a new law that protects our people and our liberties at the same time." (New Hampshire Union Leader quote of John Kerry speaking on 12-1-03)

Mr. Kerry appeared to be listening to foreign leaders; like our Supreme Court, he favors a multilateral, inclusive approach to governing the United States. This was seen by many in his party as a welcome change from the arrogant, unilateral policies of the Bush administration:

Bin Laden: "And he moved the tyranny and suppression of freedom to his own country, and they called it the Patriot Act, under the disguise of fighting terrorism."

There is entirely too much sloppy thinking regarding our national security debate. As this author points out, definitions matter. Scrutiny is not punishment, momentary inconvenience is not detention or oppression. Hysteria does not help either. When law enforcement is faced with monitoring literally hundreds of thousands of possible terrorism targets on a daily basis, requiring them to jump through tortuous legalistic hoops is hardly the way to guarantee public safety.

The truth is an unpalatable one. We lack the national will to secure our environment. We can spend all the money in the world, but so long as we are so afraid of lawsuits that we dare not enforce our own immigration laws, so traumatized by race that we ignore evidence that the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks have been perpetrated by young Muslim men, we are fighting terrorism with both hands tied behind our backs.

Seeing that this is so, why are leaders like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton screeching that we are not doing enough to secure ourselves against attack?

Bombs and planes don't kill innocent citizens.

People do.

Posted by Cassandra at July 31, 2005 08:55 AM

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Cass, a year ago at my son's middle school, a perp child phoned in a bomb threat.

While that was annoying in and of itself, as it had to be taken seriously, the principal let teachers inspect and search the bookbags. NOT pros, not sniffer dogs, but teachers.

Now these bookbags are mesh or clear vinyl.

The Engineer went with the Labor Unit and refused to let the teacher search the bag. He was in uniform and refused the search on some excellent grounds: She was not qualified to KNOW WHAT in his book bag would even BE a threat (the teachers were searching to pacify the parents) and in her ignorance, anything could be threatening because of her ignorance.

This strikes at the heart of the fourth amendment to me; that while we are using search and seizure
we are being nebulous in the approach because anything can be used if you think about it.

The description of what they are searching for
needs to be defined and outlined in a warrant (I know I am showing my ignorance here, but bear with me, okay?)and posted publicly. Where the conspiracy nuts rightly fear abuse is either something will be overlooked or someone unjustly accused and detained because of ignorance.

Please, elucidate on this, as I do have issues with the Patriot Act because of it.

Let me say that I do because of what happened in the early days after 9-11.

Posted by: Cricket at July 31, 2005 04:24 PM

I'll have to think about this Cricket. Give me some time, OK?

Posted by: Cassandra at July 31, 2005 08:50 PM

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