What's wrong with racial profiling? Another look at the problem

Criminal Justice Ethics 26 (1):20-28 (2007)
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Abstract
According to Mathias Risse and Richard Zeckhauser, racial profiling can be justified in a society, such as the contemporary United States, where the legacy of slavery and segregation is found in lesser but, nonetheless, troubling forms of racial inequality. Racial profiling, Risse and Zeckhauser recognize, is often marked by police abuse and the harassment of racial minorities and by the disproportionate use of race in profiling. These, on their view, are unjustified. But, they contend, this does not mean that all forms of racial profiling are unjustified; nor, they claim, need one be indifferent to the harms of racism in order to justify racial profiling. In fact, one of the aims of their paper is to show that racial profiling, suitably understood, “is consistent with support for far-reaching measures to decrease racial inequities and inequality.” Hence, one of their most striking claims, in an original and provocative paper, is that one can endorse racial profiling without being in any way indifferent to the disadvantaged status of racial minorities. In an initial response to these claims, I argued that Risse and Zeckhauser tend to underestimate the harms of racial profiling. I suggested two main reasons why they did so. The first is that they tend to identify the more serious harms associated with profiling with background racism, and therefore to believe that these are not properly attributable to profiling itself. The second reason is that they ignore the ways in which background racism makes even relatively minor harms harder to bear and to justify than would otherwise be the case. Hence, I concluded, racial profiling cannot be a normal part of police practice in a society still struggling with racism, although under very special conditions and with special regulation and compensation in place, it might be justified as an extraordinary police measure. I want to stand by those claims. However, Risse’s response to my arguments persuades me that I misinterpreted his earlier position in one significant respect. So I will start by explaining what interpretive mistake I believe that I made. I will then argue that despite Risse’s patient and careful response to my arguments, my initial concerns with his justification of profiling remain valid. -/- .
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