Righty: The function of law enforcement isn’t simply to round up criminals but to prevent them from acting. If statistics tell us that 55% of violent crime is committed by black males, for example, why shouldn’t police monitor that segment of the population more carefully than it does Asian females? If the black males who are stopped by police have nothing to hide, they won’t be arrested. They’re free to go. No harm done, no blots on their record. Simple as that. Profiling is even more urgent when it comes to stopping future terrorist attacks on the U.S. If young Muslim males are responsible for 95% of violent terrorist acts, why should the authorities waste their time (and ours) routinely strip-searching 70-year-old Irish-American nuns? It defies common sense. When we’re at war with Muslim terrorists, we can’t afford to let namby-pamby political correctness undermine our defenses. Which is more important: the lives of our people or the ruffled egos of a few indignant detainees?
Lefty: “Namby-pamby” political correctness? It’s so easy (isn’t it, Righty?) to dismiss the rights and feelings of an entire race or religion in a single flippant phrase. The freedom that so many right-wingers would die to defend evidently doesn’t include freedom from harassment on the basis of one’s creed or color. Here’s an example to sober you up. To date, all presidential assassins (and even failed assassins) have been white. Should the authorities make a point of screening all white people before allowing them to attend a personal appearance by the president? Our society must never cave in to the kind of quasi-fascist hysteria that places security above human rights. Our society must never condone the isolation of an entire group as the common enemy. We failed brutally in our relations with the original inhabitants of North America (and we dared call them savages!). We turned a blind eye as the Southern states trampled the rights of African Americans for an entire century after the Civil War. Even as recently as World War II, we allowed our hysteria to get the better of us as we interned loyal Japanese Americans in concentration camps. We simply can’t allow such malignant bigotry to prevail again if we are to consider ourselves a free and virtuous nation.
The New Moderate:
Both Righty and Lefty make valid and heartfelt points, but of course the solution lies in the middle. We can’t ignore the demographics of crime for the sake of political correctness: if poor urban blacks commit more street crime than whites, it makes sense for police to be more alert in poor urban black communities. Not middle class white communities. Not middle class black communities, either. In other words, police shouldn’t focus entirely on race as the identifying factor, and they should never stop drivers or pedestrians simply because they happen to be black.
The same holds true for the screening of potential terrorists. The vast majority of suicide bombers and other murderous fanatics are young Muslim men. That means you screen young Muslim men, not elderly Muslim grandmothers. It means you don’t screen Christian Arabs, either. Ethnic background shouldn’t be a primary focus at all, because fanatical Muslims can be black, white or Asian.
In short, you could say The New Moderate favors profiling, but not racial profiling. In treacherous times, we can’t afford to blind ourselves to the demographics of the people most likely to cause harm. But it should be clear that those demographics involve more than race or ethnicity, and that the individuals selected for profiling should never be treated as criminals or even as suspects until the police find incriminating evidence.
Frankly, I don’t mind when I’m pulled aside at airport security checkpoints. I look resolutely Middle Eastern, though I’m not Muslim or (alas) young. I’ve never been detained for more than half a minute; after a quick scan, I’m good to go. As long as I’m not taken into custody, I feel assured that the profiling system is working to keep us as safe as possible.
Summary: Racial profiling may be unjust, but demographic profiling is justified where certain identifiable groups commit a preponderance of the crime.