Racial and Ethnic Profiling

Article excerpt


At its three annual divisional meetings, The American Philosophical Association not only provides an umbrella for meetings of many specialized philosophical groups but also sponsors a range of symposia and discussions on topics of contemporary philosophical interest. The recent Eastern Division Annual Meeting, December 2630, 2006, featured a symposium on Racial and Ethnic Profiling, the revised papers from which we are pleased to include below.

Until the middle of the last decade, racial and ethnic profiling traveled pretty much under the radar screen, though African Americans and some other minorities had long complained about being pulled over for DWB ("Driving While Black/Brown"), a play on the offense of DWI ("Driving While Intoxicated"). (1) But a cumulative series of incidents in the mid-to-late 1990s brought the issue out into the open, and police profiling practices, putatively designed to identify potential offenders more efficiently, were excoriated in the press and in various official reports. Racial and ethnic profiling became a no-no.

But when the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred, profiling became rampant again, this time with considerable public support, though now targeting men of "Middle Eastern appearance" (or Islamic religious identity) rather than African Americans (or Hispanics). Although the sudden rash of terror-related profiling gradually subsided, the support for it prompted more reflective philosophical consideration about whether racial or ethnic characteristics might be used as part of a public safety strategy and, if so, under what circumstances. In 2003 Frederick Schauer published Profiles, Probabilities, and Stereotypes, a volume that uncovered not only the necessity of some profiling but also explored its underlying complexities. Although Schauer discussed racial and ethnic profiling (and tended to be fairly dismissive of DWB-type profiling), a complex theoretical defense of (some) racial profiling was published in a 2004 issue of Philosophy & Public Affairs by Harvard University's Mathias Risse and Richard Zeckhauser. Assuming that "there is a significant correlation between membership in certain racial groups and a tendency to commit certain crimes" and that "police can curb crime if they stop, search, or investigate members of such groups differentially," they argued that racial profiling may provide an efficient law enforcement strategy. …


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