Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Criminal Profiling Topic of the Day: Racial Profiling

We all do it; we make quick generalizations until we get added information to alter our basic viewpoint. It is actually a necessity for survival to be able to do this. If we had to ignore our perceptions and wait until we check out all the angles and possibilities, we would risk ending up in a bad way or missing out on an opportunity. One time my car broke down on a cold and windy night half way between exits on the highway. This was not a good situation. The first person to pull over offered me a ride but something about his demeanor (he was white by the way, as I am) creeped me out. So I try to hand him some money to make a call for help (yes, before cell phones existed) while standing as close to the road as possible so he couldn’t grab me and toss me behind my car. He threw the money back at me, called me a name, and drove off. I guess I was right about him and it was a good thing I didn’t get in his vehicle. The next guy that pulled over seemed harmless and so I did get in the car and he drove me home. He was indeed a nice guy. I avoided a disaster and I caught an opportunity because I profiled correctly.

Racial profiling has raised a lot of concern in recent years, but I think oftentimes it has been a bit blown out of proportion; not that there are cops and others who just see race and not real identifying issues. If I am walking down the street at night and I see a bunch of white guys to the left of me dressed in falling down pants and caps turned backwards and I see group of well dressed black guys to my right, I am going to steer myself right through the black men. It isn’t race that would concern me but the clothes that would let me know how respectable these guys are. If I were getting on a plane and I see four white men whispering and then taking far apart seats on a plane and all asking for seat belt extenders while a group of Muslim men are smiling pleasantly and sharing CDs among themselves, I am going to be worried about the white guys.

But suppose the black men had the thug clothing and the Muslims were acting weird on a plane; am I supposed to ignore the warning bells going off just because I might be considered a racist? This is foolish and all people of all races, religion and sexes need to recognize their behavior is going to be analyzed, like it or not, and if one is behaving in a concerning way, he will have to suffer the consequences. Of course, if there is a true incidence of someone being singled out for no reason other than race, religion, or sex, this is another matter entirely and is quite unacceptable.

I don’t joke about bombs in airports or wear shorts and a tank top in Morocco. It is just common sense to be sure others are comfortable around you and you don’t cause them to feel threatened or disrespected and, at the same time, you can save yourself a whole lot of grief.

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown

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