Although the days of segregation are long gone, ethnic profiling continues throughout the world, as long as more than one race lives together. Ethnic profiling, also called racial profiling, occurs when law enforcement officers treat a person of a certain ethnic group worse than if the person belonged to another ethnic group. For example, a police officer may stop a black person and search them while allowing white people in the similar situation to pass by. It is worth noting that not every incident of police brutality against a member of a minority race is a case of ethnic profiling. Sometimes, law enforcement officers may exert the same force on anyone in the same situation, regardless of their race.
The history of ethnic profiling has been a violent one. Ethnic profiling began in the colonial Spanish era, when the Spanish authority made a series of mandates to establish order in the New World. The system utilized racial profiling against American Indians to ensure that every person submitted to Spanish authority and converted to Roman Catholicism. This began a culture of viewing the native Americans as lesser beings than white people.
In 1704, the South Carolina slave patrol – considered to be the first modern police force in North America – was established with the purpose of capturing fugitive slaves. Records suggest that under this command, the patrol may also have caught free African Americans and passed them off as fugitive slaves for a profit.
After black slave Nat Turner led a rebellion against white slave owners, the white Southerners retaliated. They rounded up around 250 other black slaves, chosen at random, lynched them and displayed their decapitated bodies – simply because those slaves were of the same race as Turner, and were thus associated with the possibility of being an accomplice in the rebellion.
Following other attacks by members of certain nationalities, racial profiling was stepped up, such as in the case of the Palmer Raids. The raids were an initiative of U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer in response to several small terrorist attacks by German- and Russian-Americans. In the raids, more than 150,000 first-generation immigrants were searched and 10,000 immigrants arrested and deported without trial.
A similar case happened after World War II. Approximately 110,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in internment camps simply because of their ethnicity and nationality. One American-born Japanese, Frank Korematsu, took the case to the Supreme Court, where it was ruled that ethnic profiling is not unconstitutional – the Supreme Court believed that the safety of the United States took precedence over the rights of a single racial group.
At the New Jersey turnpike, an investigation was launched after a lawsuit alleging that black drivers faced ethnic profiling there. 70 percent of all drivers searched were black, a heavily imbalanced number considering black drivers made up just 17 percent of the population. Black drivers had a 28.4 percent chance of carrying contraband, while white drivers actually had a slightly higher chance of carrying contraband at 28.8 percent, but were pulled over much less often, suggesting that racial profiling was at play.
After the particularly devastating September 11 attacks, ethnic profiling again took place in detaining an unknown number of Middle Eastern people, not because there was any evidence of their connection to the terrorists but because of their race. Some were released, but others were deported and some still even imprisoned today without trial.
Ethnic profiling does not always lead to violence. Most of the time, it can be as simple as an officer being more likely to conduct a spot check on a person of color than a white person. Usually, people of color who have been subject to ethnic profiling are stopped, questioned, or even harassed, but then they are allowed to go once the law enforcement officer has found nothing wrong with them. As some conservatives have noted, the average black person is more likely to be injured or killed by a regular criminal than a law enforcement officer.
However, racial profiling results in people of color generally having more cause to fear for their safety than white people. In a situation with law enforcement officers, there is a higher possibility that a person of color will end up being injured or killed as compared to a white person, even if there was no offence or the person’s actions did not justify such damage.
There have been numerous cases where law enforcement officers have either directly or indirectly caused the death of a person of color. The world has been rocked by the death of George Floyd, but there have also been other similar, less-reported cases because it has become commonplace.
For instance, a 19-year-old Belgian known only as Adil died in Brussels following an encounter with police on 10 April 2020. The police had stopped Adil to check if he was respecting lockdown measures for the coronavirus. In another case, Mohamed G. died in Béziers after a heavy-handed police stop for not respecting lockdown measures. Whether these incidents were truly a case of ethnic profiling is still up for debate, but no one should end up dying simply from an interaction with the police.
The United States Senator Tim Scott, an African American, considers himself fortunate to have made it out of interactions with the law physically unscathed. Even in the Capitol building, he recounts that he was stopped by a Capitol Police officer who refused to recognize him as a senator although he was wearing his senator pin. Later, the Capitol Police called Scott to apologize for the officer’s behavior. Scott also mentioned other incidents of possible ethnic profiling that people he personally knew were subject to. One example was about a former staffer of his, who was too frequently pulled over for driving a car that appeared to be above his social status, for no other reason than the color of his skin. In the end, the staffer decided to sell that car out of frustration.
We can see that people of color in various communities are at a higher risk of having a run-in with the law, sustaining injuries related to the encounter, or both. Even if everyday cases of ethnic profiling do not directly lead to violence, they still leave a sour taste in the mouths of those who have been unfairly targeted simply for being who they are. If people in these minority groups have good reason to believe that they are being subject to ethnic profiling, they may also be less prone to cooperate with law enforcement officers. For instance, these people may choose not to report crimes or even believe that law enforcement officers are acting in their best interests, if they feel that people in positions of power are being prejudiced against them.
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