In current usage, ‘Profiling’ is the idea that the police (or anyone, really) uses race (or religion, or other non-legal criteria) as a basis for indicating whether someone is potentially guilty of a crime of some sort. That’s not the dictionary definition, by the way.
This has become politically incorrect because it smacks of prejudice. Here in the South, profiling is most commonly the assumption by police officers that a black or hispanic person is more likely to have committed a crime then a white person. So when a house gets broken into, absent a witness, the cops are more likely to randomly pull over the vehicle of black or hispanic persons than white people, if they see a suspicious vehicle in the area. This causes the appearance that the police are prejudiced. Therefore, the police actively try not to ‘profile’.
The question is, does profiling have any validity as a tool for winnowing out the guilty?
Well, the short answer, IMHO, is yes. Why?
Where I live, if you watch the local news for a period of time, you will find that probably 70% to 80% of perpetrators of violent crime are black or hispanic. This is my informal observation, I have not actually done any surveys. But that is, by my estimate, about the ratio of crimes by race in this area and at this time.
There are historical reasons for this disparity which I won’t go into here, but I do observe that this probably does not pertain everywhere in the country. Some areas it may be the other way around, or some other ratio – I wouldn’t know. And I do expect it to shift slowly over time, as the various cultures intermingle more thoroughly; but that is a very slow process. I would expect that eventually it would align with the actual ratio of races in a given area.
Given that informal statistic though, for this area, if you are a careful person, you are careful of all strangers – but you go one notch up on your internal alertness scale if the strangers are black or latino. Around here, that is.
So profiling does figure into your situational awareness at least to some degree. I have to conclude that it makes sense as a reasonable tool to help evaluate those around you. However, if it is your only criteria, then it has become racist, and is both illogical and immoral.
Now let’s think about the situation with Hasan, the Muslim murderer at Fort Hood. There seems to be a feeling that he may have still been in the military only because of a fear by his superiors that kicking him out would have been seen as profiling and prejudice against Muslims.
Hasan gave plenty of clues that he was potentially about to go critical. It seems likely that his commanders were aware of these clues, but ignored them to avoid being branded as prejudiced. Our ‘politically correct’ culture has thus indirectly resulted in the deaths of 13 people.
Muslim extremists (not all Muslims, mind you) have been the perpetrators of almost every terrorist conflict in the last twenty years. They killed over 3000 people on 9/11/2001, and have been responsible for many other bombings, shootings and killings world-wide, before and since. Given these facts, it makes sense to be a bit hypersensitive to signs of instability in anyone who is a Muslim. Not to condemn – but to be watchful and aware.
If this is profiling, so be it.
I walk in the woods near my home occasionally. I see snakes. Probably nine out of ten of them are non-poisonous. But I still ‘alert’ every time I see a snake. This is a survival trait instilled in humanity by millions of years of practice at staying alive. It’s also ‘profiling’. And this is a very good example of why profiling works.
In the same context, I don’t shoot every snake I see. I watch them, and if they threaten me I kill them. This is correct action. Now, a racist is somebody who shoots every snake he comes to.
That’s a pretty good analogy.