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Racial Profiling is Institutionalized Racism

On the night of February 4th 1999, Amadou Diallo, an unarmed and innocent African immigrant, was gunned down in a hail of 41 bullets while standing in the vestibule of his own apartment building in the Bronx. The officers responsible for Diallo’s death were part of New York Police Department’s “elite” Street Crime Unit. The plain-clothes officers approached Diallo and pulled their weapons. When Diallo, probably believing they were thieves, pulled out his wallet, the “elite” officers opened a barrage of 41 bullets on the unarmed black man.

Witnesses and forensic evidence suggest that the officers fired a second round of shots after a brief pause and that Diallo’s frame absorbed a majority of the bullets after having hit the ground. These facts clearly show that Diallo’s human and civil rights were violated that night, and that these four white police officers are guilty of murder. However, they were acquitted of all charges.

Thousands of people protested both the initial indemnity and the acquittal over a year later. This included a collective of Stanford students, who on March 10th, 2000 coordinated a two-hundred-person rally in protest of the Diallo verdict and all other acts of police brutality. Over one thousand Stanford community members signed petitions to the U.S. Dept. of Justice demanding a new federal trial.

Ultimately, the problems of police brutality and racial profiling may be alleviated by race-sensitive police training, requiring officers to be from the neighborhoods they police, and most importantly, decentralizing the police department. This would include holding police officers accountable to an effective community-elected review board that would take the place of …

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…y, is the way that institutionalized racism operates in this country.

In order to be racist, then, one must have power over such institutions. Therefore, in amerikkka, minorities and people of color do not have the agency to commit acts of institutionalized racism. In this country, whites alone have the power to commit such acts on an institutionalized level. Furthermore, this system is based on maintaining skin privilege; so all white people, simply because of the color of their skin, benefit from this system at the expense of other races, and are therefore to a certain degree racist. This reality may be hard for many to swallow, but whites must be conscious of their active and passive participation in this country’s institutionalized racism before they can attempt to effect any significant changes in the status quo.

Racial Profiling Violates the Constitution

Racial Profiling Violates the Constitution

After the heinous attacks of Sept. 11, Americans have been forced to face the issue of racial profiling? Americans love to use data and statistics to justify their actions. What data might justify special searches of anyone who looks “Arab” at an airport? There are up to 7 million Arab Americans in the United States. If we add all those South Asians (1.6 million), Latinos and African Americans who might “appear” Arab, we have a ballpark figure of at least 10 million folks. How many of these are bona fide terrorists? Let’s say 100. That amounts to 0.001 percent.

As a very rough comparison, consider that in 1999 alone, roughly 350,000 men were arrested for violent crimes. There are about 135 million men alive in america. That is a percentage of 0.26 percent. Does this mean that we should stop and search all men because they may act violently?

Second, parse the data correctly.

Humans are notoriously bad with probabilities. For instance, the fact that 100 percent of the terrorists in the Sept. 11 attacks were Arab-looking men does not mean that 100 percent of Arab-looking men are terrorists.

We also fixate on relative probabilities instead of absolute ones. So, even if the Arab-looking man seated to your left is 100 times more likely to be a terrorist than the Aryan-looking man seated to your right, 100 times a number essentially zero is still near zero.

Third, do not overestimate the benefit.

Is racial profiling really that effective? There will surely be “false negatives,” those who turn out to be terrorists but do not fit the profile. Recall that many of the terrorists in the Sept. 11 attacks hardly behaved…

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…g policy be justified on the numbers. And maybe it can. But even then, moral principles embedded in our Constitution can trump utilitarian calculations. Isn’t this precisely what the U.S. Supreme court claimed to be doing when it struck down useful affirmative-action programs because they allegedly violated the rights of innocent Whites? Let’s hold the conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to his word: “In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is american.”

Of course, many will pooh-pooh my call for careful, public deliberation with shibboleths heard during all wars: We have a “fighting constitution,” which is not a “suicide pact.”

I am no fan of weakness or suicide. But I do not delude myself into thinking that the Constitution in itself makes us strong. It merely makes us worthy of our strength.

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