Editorial: America United Against Racial Profiling
America Must Stand
United Against Racial Profiling
Attention: Those with dark skin and/or turbans. You are a suspect. You are guilty until proven innocent. You should be subject to interrogation.
Those are the feelings of the nearly 70% of Americans who think law-enforcement officers should be allowed to randomly stop people who fit the theoretical description of a terrorist (AKA racial profiling). This is according to a Los Angeles Times poll conducted September 13-15th, 2001.
"We can't blanket a whole ethnic group," said William H. Webster, a former FBI director. Webster is on a commission that is investigating problems with security at the FBI. "But this area is going to have to be rethought. If people are coming from a country that we think harbors terrorists, then they are going to have to be subjected to substantial scrutiny.'
Even more direct were comments by Rep. John Cooksey (R-LA) who stated, "If I see someone (who) comes in that's got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around the diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over." Cooksey later apologized for his comments. But his sentiment is clear.
Passenger profiling by airlines is common practice. However, in the past it was inconsistent and was at the discretion of airline employees. For instance, if a passenger paid in cash or had a passport from a particular country, they might be flagged as a security concern. After a black passenger sued over this form of profiling (and won), the FAA scrapped the process in favor of a computerized screening system called Computer-Assisted Passenger Screening, or CAPS.
However, the criteria used by CAPS to determine which passengers to scrutinize has been kept classified, causing skeptics to remain critical of the system. "We don't really know how effective it is, because we don't know exactly how it works," said David Sobel, staff attorney for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group in Washington.
While that system is a disturbing invasion of privacy, it is a far cry from allowing law enforcement to do the same thing to citizens anywhere airports, subways, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. Hopefully the public's support for this kind of racial profiling is just a short-term reaction to the horrible tragedy of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The same sort of "knee-jerk" reactions happened after the Olympic bombing in Atlanta and the Oklahoma City bombing when most polls found Americans supported more domestic spying and increased security at places such as shopping malls.
Obviously, airport security must be increased. But that security should apply to all travelers, white, black, Asian, and otherwise, not just those that look of Arab descent. Even Attorney General John Ashcroft has stated that he believes racial profiling is unconstitutional. Yet, there have been numerous reports of innocent Arab and Middle Eastern people being removed from planes.
But these kinds of reactions, to give up bits and pieces of our most cherished freedoms, is exactly the opposite of what America and Americans should be doing and supporting. If we start to implement racial profiling, security checks at malls or any other form of invasion of privacy, violation of our freedoms or considering one guilty until proven otherwise, we are eliminating exactly what sets America apart from so many other places. And it is "freedom-loving people" that George W. Bush claims we are fighting for. So, when you see a Muslim person at the supermarket or restaurant and even one ounce of suspicion enters your mind, remember what Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle said in a September 17th article: "The hijackers are no more typical Muslims than Timothy McVeigh is a typical Christian."
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