Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Random Searches and Racial Profiling

This NY Times Editorial addresses a topic that has been floating around in the back of my mind since NYC announced it would be instituting random searches of backpacks and packages: Where, as here, the search policy has been instituted in direct response to arab terrorist concerns, how do we avoid racial profiling? Anyone who studied Con Law knows that racial profiling is unconstitutional, and yet this is the one situation where doing otherwise is arguably a pointless exercise. Maybe this seems like a callous or even racist question, but is anyone really concerned right now about non-arabs carrying backpacks or large packages? The Times editorial cautions that police should not conduct searches "in a way that does not raise fears of racial profiling - by, for example, searching every 5th or 12th person, with the exact sequence chosen at random." This suggestion, while meeting the constitutional requirements, ignores the reality that prompted the search policy to begin with. By asking police to ignore the ethnic component, are we simply tying their hands, making their jobs harder, and increasing the security risk? Moreover, are we creating a mythology that everyone knows to be false - that the searches are truly random and arabs will not be specific targets?

UPDATE: My boyfriend points out that racial profiling will likely result in a backlash by arabs and muslims, thereby increasing security risks in the long run. He thinks resources should be spent on training more bomb-sniffing dogs to patrol high-risk areas.

And, of course, as everyone knows - except apparently our elected officials - federal funds should be distributed along more rational lines so that high-risk cities get the resources they need. The blood of the next terrorist attack in New York, D.C. or any other high-risk city will be on the hands of every politician who failed to ensure that those funds were properly apportioned. At least that's my opinion.

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