The recent Arizona immigration law that passed has brought to the front once again the issue of racial profiling. Despite the fact that almost 2/3rs of Americans agree with and support the Arizona law, those opposing insist that this is all about racial profiling. First of they are wrong, the bill explicitly says that police can only ask for immigration papers/visas if they stop someone who is under reasonable suspicion of breaking a law such as speeding etc. Racial profiling, in fact, is specifically excluded from the bill.

However, the question I want to raise is should racial profiling be excluded or is there ever a time when racial profiling might be appropriate? A friend of mine who is black got into an argument about this issue the other day and I found it very interesting. His point (and the left’s point in general) is that police are known to perform pre-textual stops; in other words they pull someone over for “running a light” or going 1 mile over the speed limit, but the real reason they pulled them over is because they were black or hispanic or whatever. My friend related an experience when he was driving his father’s $80,000 BMW around New Jersey and was pulled over for “driving while black” essentially. I get that and I find that heinous as well. However, I think we need to apply some critical thinking and look at rationales before we just make a blanket statement “racial profiling is never appropriate”.

So, let’s look at it this way; anyone who has ever lived in the southwest (I’ve lived in both California and Las Vegas) knows that if you drive by a Home Depot or some other known places on a given morning you will see a group of hispanics standing just off the property. It is well known that these are day workers who are looking for work, whether it be construction, landscaping, etc. It is also known that the main reason they do this is because they are all illegal aliens and cannot get a job by filling out a job application. So, given this as a fact, and given that 99.9% of these day workers are illegal alien is it appropriate for the police to stop by such well known gatherings and start asking for immigration papers?

Now let’s take my friends example of “driving while black”. Is it appropriate for police to pull over any black person who is driving a nice car because it is well known that all black people are thieves and they never own BMWs? Well, we know for a fact that this is simply not true, it’s both offensive and inappropriate and illegal to use such racial profiling tactics. Just as it would not be appropriate to stop every person of hispanic origin and ask for immigration papers.

So, does this suggest that at some level racial profiling is acceptable under strict parameters such as the Home Depot scenario? I know the Israelis have used racial profiling in airports for a long time because in their experience every hijacker they have ever dealt with is Arab, so it makes no sense to screen Jews as closely as they do Arabs. Their efforts have been overwhelmingly successful as they have had no airplane hijackers in 30-40 years from Israel.

Honestly I’m not sure where I fall on this issue. If I knew police never used pre-textual stops and we could 100% trust them I’d be more apt to support some degree of racial profiling. However my one conviction going away from law school is sometimes it is very difficult to understand who is more corrupt and at fault, the criminals or the police. I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on the issue.