Profiling, Racial and Otherwise

Profiling, Racial and Otherwise 12/1/13

“As a black man, I am far more wary of the real black criminal than the imagined white racist.” The Rev. E.W. Jackson.

Racial profiling has always been a controversial law enforcement tactic. Some people see it as pure racism, others as a triumph of common sense over political correctness.  It’s an issue that doesn’t neatly divide the left and right, as can be seen in the controversy over “stop and frisk” in New York City.

The mayor-elect of New York, an old school liberal, has vowed to put a stop to the practice while retiring liberal mayor Michael Bloomberg credits “stop and frisk” with dramatically reducing street crime, especially murder.  Former mayor, libertarian-leaning Rudy Giuliani, agrees with Bloomberg.

In the next year or so, we’ll find out if “stop and frisk” has been the instrument of crime reduction its advocates claim, or just a needless irritant to New York’s black population, who will pay the price if the new mayor is wrong.

An honest discussion of the issue would start by recognizing that “profiling” is a fact of life.  All of us make initial assumptions about people based upon their race, age, sex, grooming, dress, weight, demeanor, education, vocabulary, accent, religion and so on.  Today we’d have to add “type, quantity and location of tattoos.”  Oh, my.

Over the years, no one has written about racial profiling with more insight and wit than the economist Walter Williams.  In a couple of his columns, he used the example of stepping out your front door and being greeted by a tiger. What would your reaction be, and why? You’d jump back inside and seek safety, right?  You don’t know anything about this particular tiger, you’ve simply prejudged, or stereotyped the tiger.

Williams makes this cogent observation: “By observing this person’s behavior, there is no way one can say unambiguously whether the person likes or dislikes tigers.” I think using dogs instead of tigers makes his point even better. Most people love dogs, but most people wouldn’t think of petting a strange dog found growling on their front steps. That one they don’t love.

Everyone is aware of the unfortunate fact that crime is highly correlated with young black males, and it doesn’t make you a racist if you act on that assumption. Jesse Jackson once said, “There is nothing more painful for me at this stage of my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start to think about robbery and then look around and see it’s somebody white and feel relieved.”

Does that mean Jackson hates black people? Of course not.  He was simply being a realist.  The innocent victims of racial profiling are the law abiding black citizens pulled over while driving, stopped on the street for questioning, refused a taxi ride and so on.   But who‘s to blame? To quote Williams: “The rightful recipients of (their) anger should be those blacks who’ve made black synonymous with high crime and not the taxi driver — or the policeman.”

On racial profiling, Williams sums it up nicely: “We must be more intelligent about race in order to solve racial problems. A good beginning is to recognize what is racism and what is not.” That’s worth repeating: “A good beginning is to recognize what is racism and what is not.”

That quote is the last sentence from a column Williams wrote over 20 years ago (Sept. 1, 1993.) Likewise, the Jesse Jackson quote is from over 20 years ago (Nov. 27, 1993.)  In the intervening 20 years, have we made any progress in addressing the real issues surrounding race, or is “racism” still a political bludgeon?

Hint: If you are opposed to the administration’s position on Common Core,  you are a “white suburban mom.”

1 thought on “Profiling, Racial and Otherwise

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