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Racial Profiling is Wrong and it Doesn’t Work

A reader took a picture of my Tweet on CNN and emailed it to me. It says, "Pasngrs are demanding SMARTER security not more restrictions. Racial profiling goes against the spir

A reader took a picture of my Tweet on CNN and emailed it to me. It says, "Passngrs are demanding SMARTER security not more restrictions. Racial profiling goes against the spirit of freedom in the US"

I was recently asked by CNN to Tweet my opinion on racial profiling. That got me thinking a little deeper about the subject. Tonight I have been talking to some of my Twitter followers about my opinions and realized I needed more than 140 characters to express my opinion since Twitter limits me to only 140 characters.

Quite simply I feel that racial profiling is very wrong and it can actually hurt our security. All over the internet people are demanding that we start racial profiling. People feel that concentrating on one type of person (normally middle eastern male in his early to middle 20’s) will make us safer. Here are the reasons why I don’t agree:

* The guy who just tried to blow up Delta flight 253 was Nigerian and he would not have fit into the typical “racial profiling” that people are looking to have. A real profiler should have seen he paid in cash, had no ID, and I am guessing showed signs of being nervous.

* If we did discriminate people based on race, wouldn’t terrorist groups  just use people of different races? Remember John Walker Lindh? The American citizen who was captured in 2001 and was being trained by Al-Qaeda? With a nice shave and haircut he would NEVER be racially profiled at an airport. I am sure he is not the only person training with Al-Qaeda that doesn’t match the proper “profile.” While we spend time, effort and money training people to racially profile, terrorists will spend time training people that don’t fit that profile.

* As I said in my Tweet to CNN, we don’t need more security, but smarter security. Part of the smart is getting people who are highly trained to detect a person who is about to kill himself and a few hundred other people. No matter how much they hate America or are ready to die for their cause, that is going to make anyone a little nervous. Professional (not the people making ~$35k with a TSA patch on their shoulder) profilers are able to tell the difference between someone who is nervous to fly and someone nervous that their bomb won’t go off.

* It is just wrong. Even if I honestly thought racially profiling passengers would increase my security, I would rather be less secure than participate in a system that places people into categories based on their race. We have worked very hard as a society for the past 50+ years for racial equality and this would be a HUGE step backwards.

* Will it spread? I hate the saying “it’s a slippery slope” but it kind of works here. If we start racially profiling with flying, then why not with shoplifting or with jay-walking? I am NOT ok with even thinking about what precedent it could set.

I have seen the quote from Benjamin Franklin a lot today (mostly thanks to FlightWisdom) and it is perfect for this concept: “Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.”

Thank you to all my Twitter followers for motivating me to write this. Also be sure to read Lou Young’s, story about racial profiling (thanks to @JonUPS for pointing this out to me)

Ok discussion time, what are your thoughts?

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Thanks Rita for taking the picture

25 comments to Racial Profiling is Wrong and it Doesn’t Work

  • “Racial profiling” is too narrow a concept to be useful by itself in an aviation security context. I would not advocate profiling based on race alone.

    I am in favour of “profiling” in the broad context. To me it makes sense to profile the types of people who would execute terrorist acts. In doing that, there may or may not be a racial component, but I suspect that linkage is weak. On the other hand, there is certainly a behavioural component to the profile and here I bet the linkage is strong. There are probably other profile components I cannot imagine, not being a professional profiler.

    We should leave i

  • Temo

    I’m a 30 year old Mexican-American. And sadly, I get confused with being of middle-eastern decent all of the time. Since 9/11 I have flown roughly about 13 times and I have been pulled aside for “special search service” 9 times.

    I made a fuss the first two times and after the third time, I decided that it was the norm and I would simply calculate the extra search time into my travel regimen. Even my wife will say “okay, we have to get there 20 minutes earlier, so you can go through the extra search”.

    Your post has has made me think closely about what I originally was thinking. My thought was, it’s okay to racially profile because I felt it make me feel safe and secure that others were being treated the same way as me, but I did not take into consideration that I simply fit one specific profile and that you are correct about the recent events. The man was not middle eastern at all. I simply decided that I would sit on the side lines and take it, when in reality I have given up my rights and freedom.

    Your words have truly inspired me and agree with you that what we need is smart security measures and regulations, not a quick band aid fix from TSA.

    • Wow, thanks Temo for your personal experiences like that.

      I have been taken twice for extra security, but that was because I didn’t take off my shoes when it was still “optional” and I found that to be quite annoying. However I understand it was a consequence for me not following the suggested measures.

      David

  • Joyce

    Every time I go to the airport, and that is very often, I get the full body pat down. Do I fit the ‘profile’ of a possible terrorist? You tell me.

    I’m a 63 year old white, Jewish, female. I require the help of a wheelchair as I can’t stand for long periods of time. I’ve had both hips replaced. I set off the scanner every single time I go through. I do have a card from my orthopedic surgeon saying I’ve had my hips replaced but they never look at that.

    I use my passport (U.S. issued as I was born and bred in Philadelphia) for identification. I’ve lived in my current apartment for the last 36 years. I buy my tickets in advance using a credit card that I’ve had since 1974.

    I’ve gone through this process so many times that I really do have my own, personal TSA person. She sees me coming and is waiting to do the pat down. I joke with her that anyone that touches me like that should ask me to marry them.

    At Canadian airports, the standard was to check only the first person to board the plane. Guess who is always first in line … the handicapped. Instead of being the first to board, so they don’t get trampled or hold up everyone behind them, the handicapped are the last to board and slow down the entire boarding process. Makes sense since they handicapped person is probably the most likely to be a terrorist NOT!!!

    So, do I mind that I go through this every single time I go to the airport? The answer is no. I just wish they would pay as much attention to the other passengers. I’m being profiled so I think everyone else should be too.

    • Wow. Why do you think you get searched every time? Is it because of the wheelchair? Are you not able to go through the metal detector because of the hip replacement maybe?

      But a very interesting perspective and thank you for sharing!

      David

      • Joyce

        I get searched every time because my titanium hip replacements set off the alarm. I have an official document from my surgeon but they don’t look at it. If I choose to stay in the chair then they do the full body touching because I didn’t go through the scanner. Damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

        I hope they do put in x-ray body scanners. To me, they are more private than having my body touched by a stranger every time I go to an airport.

        Just my opinion.

        Joyce

  • Dan

    We simply need to throw more money at the problem, which could be a problem in the current economy. Racial profiling seems to be a “cheap” way to do security because you cover the highest risk passengers without shutting down the airport to check every person who goes through.

    • But I think it needs to be smart money. Paying for more TSA agents to pat down EVERY passenger would cost more money, but it wouldn’t be smart.

      I think money spent on better technology and more professional workers would be money well spent!

      David

  • KPaske

    Profiling is and will always be a critical element in the security business. Race is just one of many factors, but unfortunately to the ignorant, it seems to weigh heavier in their minds and judgements which is why this topic is so controversial. Profiling based on appearance or ethnicity alone is not very effective, because as the author mentioned, the typical TSA employee is not adequately trained or motivated to identify sophisticated criminals. What basic profiling CAN do is catch the low level bad guys. The better the profiling, the more sophisticated the criminals will have to be to get past the screenings. If they aren’t already, they should be looking at frequency of travel, countries of origin and destinations, method of payment, number and weight of bags checked, and countless other clues that might indicate that this person might be up to no good. This should be done automatically by computer algorithms, based on actual statistics, that would flag those who might need some additional screening, not by the overworked, underpaid ticket counter person who just wants to make it to their next break.

    We should also consider a system of advanced screening that frequent travelers could opt to go through that would allow them to bypass most of the security screening at the airport. But for this type of screening process to be effective it would need to be extremely thorough, on the same scale as a government security clearance. This would be very expensive, would require periodic reviews, and could itself become a slippery slope if given too much authority [because (a) it could become something only the "privledged class" would have access to, and (b) if a criminal makes it through the screening process, they would be able to operate with very little scrutiny].

    Ultimately we need to consider whether air travel is really a “right” or a “privledge”. I personally lean toward the latter, and am willing to subject myself to additional screening IF it provides a safer travel experience for everyone involved. The biggest issue I have with all these post 9/11 airport security measures is that they simply aren’t effective. I’ve flown at least 20 times since 2001 and often inadvertently leave “banned items” in my carry on baggage, including a small folding, serrated blade that usually resides in my laptop bag. In all of those screenings, they have yet to find anything, except for the one time they forced me to chug a 32 ounce container of water for fear it might be a dangerous substance (i think one sip would have been sufficient proof that it wasn’t).

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. I know I have flown many times with more than 3oz of liquid not in a plastic bag, in my carry on and never been stopped. I have heard of people with lighters, knives, etc getting through. Not on purpose, but accidentally.

      I would be willing to be inconvenienced if the security is real. I hate having to stand in a long time, take off my shoes just to go through a security show to make people feel like something is being done.

      David

  • Paul

    As a professional airline pilot for the last 25 years, I am subjected to our security several times per month. Quite frankly, particularly post 9/11, it’s a ridiculous notion that flight crews are subjected to any kind of screening. Given technologies available, it’s a joke. However, I do see on a daily basis the joke that passes for security screening that my ordinary passengers endure. Countless times I watch elderly people, children, and everyone else put up with this. There has to be a better way.

    While I don’t advocate racial profiling per se, I do believe that certain people exhibit certain markers. Taking individual factors together, we can keep these people off our jets. If a person purchases an international one-way ticket, with cash, and originates from a suspect country, that individual should be aggressively interrogated before getting near an airplane. I am aware that people pay cash more frequently from third world, poorer countries. The price they must pay, therefore, is to then satisfy the rest of us that they are law-abiding non-terrorists.

    As I heard the other day, with rare exception, not all Muslims are terrorists. But all terrorists are Muslim. If other markers exist with a given individual, then they should be treated as potential combatants. Period.

    We are at a state of war with these people, and we need to stop pussy footing around and accept the reality that there are bad people out there who want to do us harm. I say we put aside political correctness, put our national feet down, and do what it takes to fight back.

    El Al Airlines has it right.

    • Hey Paul! Thanks for your comments. I think there is a big difference “being at war with Muslims” and “being at war with Muslim extremists.”

      The KKK considers themselves to be Christian, but they are extreme and most people wouldn’t consider them Christian.

      Also I have a few Muslim friends that are white, so Muslim and Muslim extremism and race really aren’t connected. I think like you said it is more important to look at other details about a person and how they are traveling.

      David

  • Bravo, David! Discrimination of any sort is a very slippery slope.

    But, just as it is not right to pull every “muslim-looking” person out of the security line, it is equally dangerous to assume that every granny is ‘safe’, in my opinion. I don’t agree with all the folks who say we shouldn’t waste our time on grannies and babies. We should be prepared for all possibilities.

    As Paul mentions, we need to exploit the technology available to tighten up security. We’ve got some amazing technology out there. Let’s use it!

    • Thanks Mary!

      Of course! If terrorist know that older people in wheelchairs don’t get screened or babies can easily by-pass scrutiny, they are going to exploit that.

      A nice combination of high-tech, smart, and randomness is the key! Having to take off my shoes and walk where thousands of others have walked with bare feet is NOT the key ;)

      David

  • trucker

    All workers are already profiled in this country. Why not for national security? Read this post: http://blog.christiantruckersnetwork.com/2009/12/31/racial-profiling-why-not/

    • Hello Trucker, thanks for your comments.

      I think that link has a few things a bit off. First off the Delta flight 253 was done by a black Nigerian man that does not fit what that blog is looking for.

      Secondly, this is really troublesome: “A type of “racial” profiling has already been used for a number of years now against truckers and other workers. It’s called a drug screen.” Drug screening is not a type of racial profiling and makes me really question the author.

      Lastly, I do not like the fact the author disabled the comments. I feel very strongly in my views on this, but I always want to allow people to comment to start a conversation, since a good argument can really make me think about my own views.

      David

  • [...] Hot Air, here and here; Joshua Pundit; Reuters; Daniel Pipes; Airline Reporter; Patrick Madrid. [...]

  • Al

    Don’t overcomlicate the problem. Use good old pronciple of OCCAM’s Razor..
    Yes, Racial Profiling is NOT effective since it will NOT cure the deasease, but would just attenuate the simptoms. The desease will still remain in the body of the Society. You can’t treat swine flu with robitussin can you?
    All we need is to BAN islam in the United States of America altogether, as it is not just a religion, but nazi-like ideology of hatred and bloody discrimination towards infidels.
    Banning of Islam would be one tough desigion to make in the Land of the Free, but it will be bitter and absolutely nessessary medicine to swallow.
    No muslims will be allowed on board of American Aircraft, remaining mosques MUST be closely supervised by Police, FBI and CIA. The terrorists (e.g. islamic terrorists) must be executed after short military trial by shutting squad using bullits soacked in pig’s blood.
    They want to kill me, they want to kill you, they want to behead all the infidels.
    Streat smart solution is cristal clear.
    If the question of banning Islam in USA would be put on State Referendum – i’m absolutely sure it’d get at least 70% approval.
    I am neither racial bigot nor your typical caucasian looking guy, so cool down before jump to conclusions..

    • Matt

      Stay in school kids, else you’ll turn out like our pal Al, here. Ignorant and bigoted (and yes Al, what you said does indeed make you a bigot).

  • David,

    As a black American who has, on occasion, been confused for Caribbean Latino, Middle Eastern, Indian, and a whole rack of other ethnicities for having a mixed phenotype, I seriously appreciate your stance against racial profiling. Whenever people of color protest policies that are inherently discriminatory, unfair, and poisonous to the supposed freedom this country espouses (at least verbally), we are accused of whining and belly-aching and told we’re being paranoid and divisive. Only people who’ve never exprienced negative encounters directly related to a physical trait they cannot change clamor for an end to “political correctness.” Thank you for siding with logic and common sense regarding the need for more intelligent, improved transportation security. Sadly, it’s not until progressive whites like you speak out against injustice that the message is heard.

    -FlyBro

  • Veteran

    I was born and raised in the US and African American desent,Served 20 years in the military protecting this country and watched all minorities get patted down to include myself at Grand Junction CO.airport,It felt degrading and I feel unless your caucasian you will not be treated with respect or fairly in this country

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