Racial Profiling and the War on Terror: Changing Trends and Perspectives1

By Bah, Abu B. | Ethnic Studies Review, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Racial Profiling and the War on Terror: Changing Trends and Perspectives1


Bah, Abu B., Ethnic Studies Review


Minorities in the United States have often been treated unfairly by law enforcement agencies. Prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States, Blacks were the main victims of racial profiling. Since the terrorist attack, however, Arabs and Muslims are becoming the primary targets for profiling by law enforcement agencies. There are some remarkable similarities between the profiling of Blacks and the profiling of Arabs and Muslims. In both cases, the fundamental problems with racial profiling are that it violates the civil liberties of innocent people and denies minorities the equal protection of the law. The War on Terror has redefined racial profiling. It has not only led to a shift in the target population, but it has also changed the ways in which racial profiling is conducted.

This paper examines the problem of racial profiling before and after the terrorist attack of 9/11. It focuses on three kinds of changes that are crucial for understanding the current problem of racial profiling. These are: the changing rationale for racial profiling; the shift in the target population; and the diminishing efforts to combat racial profiling. The rationale for racial profiling has often been linked to the government's responsibility to protect the public against crime, violence, and other forms of social disorder. Prior to the 9/11 attack, the rationale for racial profiling centered mainly on the need to protect the public against drug trafficking and illegal immigration. Blacks and Hispanics were the primary targets for racial profiling. Since the 9/11 attack, however, terrorism has become the primary security concern. This concern has led to a dramatic increase in the profiling of Arabs and Muslims, who are often considered terrorists. Furthermore, the problem of terrorism has led to the erosion of the intolerance toward racial profiling that characterized the pre-9/11 period. This erosion is reflected in the swift introduction of new security regulations that target Arabs and Muslims as well as the sharp decline in the efforts to combat racial profiling.

The profiling of Blacks in the post-civil rights era represents a dysfunction within American law enforcement institutions. Despite its persistence, racial profiling of Blacks has been recognized as a problematic issue that must be combated. In contrast, racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims, especially since the 9/11 terrorist attack, can be seen as a state-sponsored crackdown on Arabs and Muslims that is intended to protect the United States against terrorism. However, racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims has implications for minority communities. Essentially, it is an extension of the biased law enforcement practices to which Blacks and Hispanics have been subjected. Most importantly, racial profiling undermines civil liberties, which are essential for a democratic society. The introduction of new and stringent security regulations increases the powers of law enforcement agencies and opens up new channels for the mistreatment of disadvantaged minority groups, who are often at a far greater risk of abuse. While fully recognizing the urgency of combating terrorism, I argue that it is equally imperative for a democratic society to protect civil liberties and ensure equality before the law. Liberty and equality are the fundamental values of democracy. By violating these values, racial profiling raises questions about American democracy. The critical question is how democratic is a country that violates the civil liberties of minorities and fails to give them equal protection of the law. Constitutional Issues in Racial Profiling

Profiling has often been an important tool for law enforcement agencies in their fight against crime. In its most basic form, profiling is a technique that can help law enforcement agencies concentrate resources in specific directions in order to maximize the chances of preventing crime or apprehending criminals (Schauer 2003). …

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Racial Profiling and the War on Terror: Changing Trends and Perspectives1
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