Trying to Create a Color-Blind World is to Handicap Yourself
Our country is so obsessed with race and ethnic discrimination, that we've abandoned our reasoning in instances where paying attention to race and being discriminatory is a good thing.
If I'm a police officer and I get in a call to be on the lookout for a black male in his 20's, 5" 11", wearing a blue t-shirt and wearing baggy jeans....is the fact that it's a black suspect being racist? Yes, in the sense that I am going to pay attention to skin-color, one of the quickest identifiable traits. But no, in the sense that I'm singling out blacks, in this particular instance, without a good reason. It's insane, should the dispatcher not clue me into the racial, ethnic profile of the suspect and I end up doing a broader search because of it, from a larger pool of potential suspects, when I could easily have the field narrowed down. Skin-color is only ONE aspect of a list of things for me to be on the lookout for. To leave out skin complexion would be just as crazy as leaving out the fact that he wears sagging jeans, for fear of offending and being prejudiced against everyone I encounter wearing sagging jeans.
A couple of blog sites I visit, as well as an earlier post of mine, have touched upon the issue of profiling. Recently, we've heard of how police will now be conducting random searches in NY City subways; and of how some of our citizens will protest this "vile infringement on our civil liberties". Anyway, rather than rant my thoughts out, I want to just go the easy way out and reprint for you two articles that I think sums it all up very nicely for me. Really, there's not much more to add to this. These articles say it all which is why I decided to print them and not just link them. Please take the time to read.
First up, from the New York Post:
ISRAELIS KNOW: PROFILING'S KEY
By YISHAI HA'ETZNI
July 26, 2005 -- SINCE 9/11, U.S. officials have struggled with how to protect the American public without infringing on individuals' rights and sensibilities.
The touchiest issue of all is "profiling" — using various factors, including race or ethnicity, in security checks. So, it wasn't surprising that, when New York announced last week that it would begin screening passengers on the city's subway, officials promised loudly and insistently that the checks would be random and racial profiling would not be used.
Such a policy avoids discrimination against certain ethnic groups — in effect, inconveniencing, embarrassing and perhaps even punishing individuals for crimes they did not commit. This is an important value and a worthy goal. Unfortunately, however, blanket avoidance of profiling undermines the entire point of checking passengers.
Following a spate of terrorist hijackings and other attacks on civilian aircraft and airports in the late 1960s and '70s, Israel developed a security system that utilized sociological profiles of those seeking to harm Israelis, among other factors.
The American system developed at the same time relied primarily on technology like scanning devices, which checked people and baggage uniformly.
Facing a less benign threat, Israelis found this system insufficient: Explosives and other weapons could slip through too easily. Since it wasn't feasible to perform extensive security searches on every passenger, Israel used sociological profiles in addition to screening devices: Each passenger is questioned briefly and then airport security personnel use their judgment to identify suspect would-be passengers, who are then questioned at greater length and their bags searched more thoroughly. It is targeted and far more effective than random searches, which end up being nearly cosmetic.
Screening and random searches would not have averted the tragedy that profiling stopped on April 17, 1986. Anne-Marie Murphy, a pregnant Irish woman, was traveling alone to Israel to meet her fiancé's parents. Her bags went through an X-ray machine without problems, and she and her passport appeared otherwise unremarkable.
But in a perfect example of the complexity of profiling, a pregnant woman traveling alone roused the suspicions of security officials. They inspected her bags more closely and discovered a sheet of Semtex explosives under a false bottom. Unbeknownst to Murphy, her fiancé, Nizar Hindawi, had intended to kill her and their unborn child along with the other passengers on the plane.
Unfortunately, the rise in terrorist assaults on Israeli public transportation, entertainment venues and public spaces necessitated that the airport security model be implemented in those areas as well — for one simple reason: it works better than anything else.
In May 2002, a would-be suicide bomber ran away from the entrance to a mall in Netanya after guards at the entrance grew suspicious. Though he killed three people when he blew himself up on a nearby street, he would have murdered far many more people had he been able to enter the mall.
His ethnicity — along with his demeanor, dress, even his hair — was merely one of many factors security personnel use in profiles. But it was a factor.
The American system's "blindness" cuts off the most important weapon in the war against terrorism: Human capability, judgment and perception. Now that the United States faces a higher threat, it cannot afford to neglect those tools.
Using sociological data as well as constantly updated intelligence information, trained security personnel know who is most likely to be perpetuating an attack, as well as how to identify suspicious individuals through behavior. (Again, it is important to note that ethnicity is only one factor among many used to identify potential terrorists.) Removing intelligence and statistical probability as tools would render this model far less effective.
Israelis understand — and other Westerners need to accept — that no system can ever be 100 percent effective. But this is a system that has stood up remarkably well under a vicious and unrelenting assault of terror.
Is profiling worth the resulting infringement on the democratic values of equality? Yes. After all, protecting human life is also a democratic value, perhaps the supreme one.
Random searches of grandmothers and congressmen may make Americans feel virtuous, but they don't keep Americans safe. The attacks of 9/11 and the attacks on public transport in Madrid and London sadly demonstrate that Americans cannot afford feeling virtuous at the cost of human life.
Today's terror threatens not only individuals' security and lives, but is an assault on open, democratic societies as a whole. Terrorists use our society's openness against us. Free, democratic societies must carefully balance our rights and responsibilities, lest we saw off the branch upon which democratic freedom sits.
Yishai Ha'etzni is executive director of the Shalem Center, the Jerusalem research institute that publishes the journal Azure (www.azure.org.il).
Article Two, from the Los Angeles Times:
July 29, 2005
You object to profiling? Fuhgedaboutit
The new york city police are now prowling subway and train stations for possible terrorists. They say they are stopping travelers "at random," but I'm happy to report that they are (unintentionally) lying. Because they have also said (reports the New York Sun) that they will only stop people with "cumbersome containers or backpacks," or "wearing bulky coats" inappropriate for summer, or seeming "nervous." So they are not checking "at random."
Good for them. The police can't check everyone. Naturally, they identify easily visible characteristics that terrorists are likely to have, then concentrate on people who have them. That is, they work from a profile — which should be as complete as possible. Even if it becomes a dreaded "racial profile."
Terrorists are rare. If you fit the profile, it only means that you are more likely than other people to be a terrorist. But most people who fit are completely innocent. And some who don't fit are guilty: No responsible police force can rely on profiles exclusively. Alert, flexible observers are always the best terrorist detectors. Still, information is the most important anti-terror weapon. Profiles summarize the best current information.
If "looks like a young Muslim" or "looks Middle Eastern" is an easily visible characteristic that terrorists are likely to have, it belongs in the profile.
But that's racial profiling, some people will say. And racial profiling is bad, not to mention illegal. When police stop blacks merely because of their race, the overwhelming majority are innocent of any crime. All Americans, they say, must be treated equally!
But the same holds true for bulky-backpack wearers — the overwhelming majority are innocent of any crime; all are entitled to equal treatment.
Ideally, a profile would list characteristics that identify all criminals and only criminals, but usually there are no such (easily visible) characteristics.
So the real question is this: Are we eager enough to prevent the crime in question to stop people (like bulky-backpack wearers or travelers who appear Middle Eastern) who we know might be guilty but almost certainly aren't? Are we willing to impose this inconvenience on many innocent people who fit the profile just to find a few guilty ones?
If the goal is to preempt "ordinary" crimes (say theft or robbery) that hurt only a few individuals, the coldblooded answer is probably no. If the goal is to preempt a terrorist attack that might hurt the whole nation, the answer ought to be yes.
Once we've decided to use profiles, we should make them complete. A complete profile is as likely to promote fairness as damage it.
If I'm carrying a bulky backpack and you look Middle Eastern, and both items belong in the profile — why should I be stopped and not you? Equality doesn't mean you get a pass or special privileges just because your skin is dark or you appear Middle Eastern.
You might argue that dark-skinned people are a special case, given the way the United States has treated them. I agree — we have treated them so solicitously, and worked so hard to suppress racial prejudice, that dark-skinned people owe their country the benefit of the doubt.
The U.S. doesn't deserve gratitude for not doing wrong. But no nation in history has ever worked harder to correct a fault than the U.S. has to end racial prejudice. We've earned the right to expect everyone who fits a security profile to grin and bear it.
Which doesn't make it any less of a pain to match a profile. As a graduate student traveling alone in early-1980s Europe, I sometimes matched terrorist profiles and got stopped. (In those days, European terrorist groups were bigger problems than Islamic terrorism.)
Today, I look like a bearded, troublemaking professor, and I still get stopped occasionally, in airports.
But the fact remains that profiling is logical in loads of circumstances, from deciding who should get flu shots to choosing whom to chat with when you don't know anyone at a party. Profiling means making smart choices when you have nothing but externals to go by.
Good citizenship — remember that phrase? — requires that we cooperate with the authorities as they work to head off the next terror attack. John F. Kennedy, a Democrat and the nation's first neoconservative president, put it well: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
How to deal with profiling? Take it like a New Yorker, with a shrug.
Take a look at this bit from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian who was the source for the Theo van Gogh film, resulting in his violent murder out in plain sight of witnesses frozen with inaction. Two quotes: "fear of giving offense leads to injustice and suffering" and "This multiculturalism is a disaster. All one has to do is scream "discrimination" and all doors are open to you! Scream ‘racism’ and your opponents shut up! But multiculturalism is an inconsistent theory"
Finally, if you are still not convinced on the logical, sane, rational, common sense reasoning behind profiling, here are some other articles:
from Michelle Malkin:
Racial profiling: A matter of survival
And two reviews of her book (links to more book-related articles there):
by Thomas Sowell
by Peter-Christian Aigner