January 19, 2005
Less defiling, more profiling, pleaseBy Selwyn Duke
We've all probably had experiences that made us wonder if we were the butt of a joke on Candid Camera. The last such event in my life occurred while waiting on a security line in a quasi—backwater Mexican airport a couple of years ago. While I expected a 'manana' attitude and cursory inspection, I found myself in a long queue waiting for security personnel who acted as if on an Easter egg hunt. These characters pulled vacationers' luggage apart and did everything but don a Sherlock Holmes outfit and produce a magnifying glass.
The piece de r�sistance was when one fellow removed the cap from someone's bottle of sunblock and, in quintessential Inspector Clouseau fashion, gave the nozzle a sniff. Watching with amusement and bemusement, the incongruity of the situation was explained when I was apprised of the unique threat that made that day so special: an inspector was visiting the airport.
Unfortunately, the phenomenon of security officials executing their duties based on ulterior motives or merely for effect is not limited to locales south of the border. Most of you know what I'm referring to; you've heard the stories about airport security officials strip—searching cherubic teenage girls or matronly grandmother types, while men of Middle Eastern descent were allowed to saunter by receiving no extra attention. You also know that we hear much talk about 'how seriously we're taking security,' but I know it smacks of little more than posturing. And no one will convince me otherwise until we start acting like we're serious and this means, among other things, that we have to free ourselves from the shackles of political—correctness. More specifically, what I want to tell you is that we need less unnecessary defiling and more necessary profiling.
We're halfway there, as it was recently announced that airport officials would cease playing the octopus and leave the lasses be. The other half of the equation, however, will prove a much harder nut to crack because of the way that 'racial—profiling' has been demonized. So let's discuss the matter.
I am a member of the most profiled group in the country. Now, upon seeing my fair skin, brown hair and blue eyes, you may wonder what I'm talking about. Well, I'm referring to the fact that I'm a man, and law enforcement views men much more suspiciously than women because men commit an inordinate amount of the crime.
Now, this truly doesn't bother me, but invidious double—standards certainly do raise my ire. If it's just to apply this standard to men, then it's only right to apply the exact same standard to all other groups that commit an inordinate amount of the crime. Moreover, if profiling based on racial characteristics is immoral, constitutes racism and must be eliminated, then profiling based on sex also is immoral, constitutes sexism and should be eliminated with the same vigor. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
When considering what utter nonsense the anti—'racial—profiling' argument is, understand why I have the term in quotation marks. To whit: there really is no such thing as 'racial—profiling.' It's simply a term — much like 'assault weapon' as applied to semi—automatic rifles — that's being used to manipulate the public's emotions. In reality, there are only two types of profiling: good profiling and bad profiling. Let's examine the difference.
Profiling is simply a method by which law enforcement can determine the probability that a given individual has criminal intent or has perpetrated a certain crime. When assessing this probability, many criteria are taken into consideration. Some of these have to do with sex, age, style of dress, mannerisms that bespeak of nervousness and, yes, some have to do with race. Whatever the elements may be — and what preceded was just a short list — good profiling involves assessment of all relevant criteria, without regard for individual feelings or the political flavor of the day. Bad profiling, though, is quite different.
Bad profiling doesn't involve consideration of all the criteria that fall within the boundaries of good criminology's determinations, but rather, only those that fall within the boundaries of the politically—correct thought police's machinations. And this is folly, because when you say that only politically—correct criteria are fair game and that politically—incorrect ones are not, you render profiling something less than what it was designed to be: a truly effective law enforcement tool that thwarts crime and saves lives.
But what say the critics? 'Why, considering racial factors is prejudicial and discriminatory.' I say nonsense. In fact, they're the ones who are guilty of discrimination, in the most negative sense of the word.
To understand why, one must consider how profiling found its genesis. As I understand it, the science of profiling originated in the behavioral sciences units of the FBI. They wanted to maximize their chances of tracking down serial killers, so their psychologists developed a profile of the average serial killer, which allowed agents to narrow down a list of suspects as much as possible. What's noteworthy, however, are the elements of which the profile consisted. Among other things, their findings showed that serial killers tended to be loners, middle—aged and, mercy me, of a certain racial background. Funny, though, back then there was no hue and cry about the injustice of 'racial—profiling.' Why? Call me crazy, but it might have had something to do with the race that was being targeted: the Caucasian one.
Most definitely, when it's a matter of white people receiving the focus in the hunt for a psychopath or being stopped when driving fancy cars in minority neighborhoods late at night [think drug acquisition], or when it's men who are being watched with a much more suspicious eye than women, not only is no umbrage taken, but the profiling isn't even noticed. It seems that the harsh realities of life are only on the radar screen and cast as an unfair burden when they rain down on groups that are in favor politically.
This is why I can profile those who have demonized 'good profiling' and say that when leveling their accusations they are guilty of projection. They claim to occupy the high road, but their path is the lowest of all. It is the road trod by people who are so indifferent to truth and so blind to their own prejudices that they see only half of the picture and, consequently, encourage the kind of discrimination they decry. For, I advocate applying the same standard to all groups, whereas they want certain groups to be given a special dispensation. They want nothing less than to be able to cherry—pick which groups can be subject to law enforcement scrutiny and which ones must be exempt.
Now, this argument may be compelling, but there have been times when those to whom I've posed it could not be shaken of their belief that good profiling was somehow wrong. Oh, these folks could not deny that there was a double—standard, but their remedy was to eliminate all profiling — sex, age, you name it. They just had a dogmatic allegiance to a bad idea that trumped their common—sense. So a little more perspective is in order.
Let's say you walk down the street and see a pack of rough—hewn young men walking toward you and, quite prudently, you walk to the other side. Well, guess what? You've just engaged in profiling. Based upon the appearance of the individuals your common—sense informed you that the probability was high that they posed a danger, and you acted based upon that assessment.
Now, the only reason why we don't view 'profiling' in this light is that we have a habit of taking everyday things and attaching scientific labels to them, and this often confuses the mind and causes us to place these everyday things in a special category. And this exposes one of the misconceptions that undergirds the anti—profiling argument: the notion that this is something unusual, only practiced by those who are fraught with invidious bias. In reality, though, profiling is simply a scientific name that has been applied to the exercise of common—sense within the sphere of law enforcement.
Would you steadfastly maintain that law enforcement must not be allowed to exercise common—sense? Well, that's exactly what those who advocate the elimination of good profiling are doing. They indignantly but naively claim that the banning of this practice is only just, but you cannot divorce common—sense from law enforcement and expect to benefit from good law enforcement. Law enforcement officials must be allowed to consider ALL relevant factors when conducting their duties. And, if we continue pressuring them to not do so and to check their brains at the station house door, crime will proliferate and more innocent people — more of our wives, husbands, siblings, parents and children — will be hurt and killed.
We now live in an age of terrorism, and the knowledge that we're confronted with this grave threat should make it obvious that we don't have the luxury of doing a politically—correct dance—of—death around the issues. Much lip service is paid to how seriously we're taking security matters, to the Patriot Act, to this or that bill or this or that safety measure. But it all means nothing, absolutely nothing, unless we unshackle our minds and peer beyond the parameters established by the thought police. Unfortunately, one great failing of man is that he's loath to act until something jars him from his lethargy. In a time when that 'something' could be a nuclear device that incinerates an American city, this failing is one that we indulge at our own peril.
Selwyn Duke is a frequent contributor