Why Race Profiling Could Easily Be a White Problem
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
In a recent feature, Time magazine came perilously close to embracing the cherished article of faith of many conservatives that race profiling is a legitimate police practice to catch black law breakers. The claim rests on the dubious notion that blacks commit far more crimes than whites. This is part fact and part fiction. According to annual FBI crime figures, more blacks are jailed for murder, robbery, and theft than whites. (It's rarely noted that the majority of serial killers, rapists, child molesters, bank robbers, hate crime perpetrators, and felony drunk drivers are white). Nearly half of the two million prisoners that now jam America's prisons are black. They are more likely to get stiffer sentences in state and federal courts than whites for petty crimes, and drug offenses. Despite a vague campaign promise by President Bush, and later repeated by Attorney General John to look at the drug sentencing laws, no one should hold their breath waiting for them to push Congress to change the laws. But does this mean that blacks are more drug, crime and violence-prone than whites? Or, is it case that blacks are more likely to be arrested and convicted for crimes than whites? And, once arrested are they far less likely to strike plea bargains, get summary probation, have their juvenile records sealed, and get referrals to drug diversion programs than whites? Also, numerous studies have shown that police officials saturate poor black neighborhoods with small armies of cops. This insures that more blacks will be stopped, searched, and arrested than whites, and further bumps up the arrest totals for blacks.
Three examples underscore how the quiet clamor for racial profiling fuels dangerous public misperceptions about blacks and crime.
- Following a barrage of lawsuits, costly settlements, and the threat of Justice Department intervention, in April, 1999, then New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman publicly admitted that many New Jersey state troopers racially-profiled black and Latino motorists. But what escaped public attention was the revelation that the blacks stopped were less likely to carry drugs, weapons, and illegal contraband than the relative handful of whites stopped and searched.
- San Diego police officials recently acknowledged that black and Latino motorists were three times more likely to be stopped by police than whites. Yet, police found no greater amount of contrabands on blacks than whites, and far less on Latinos than on whites.
- A New York City undercover police unit gained national infamy when four of its officers gunned down African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, a man with no police record and engaged in no criminal activity. That same unit stopped and searched thousands of mostly young blacks and Latinos. Only about five percent of those stops resulted in arrests.
While racial profiling proof worthless in preventing black crime, oddly, it could have some racially-reverse value for police as a tool in the deeply flawed, racially-warped drug war. The profile of a typical drug user is not a poor black, or Latino, but a middle-income white, aged 12-25. They make up more than 75 to 80 percent of the drug users in America. The Justice Department's 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found that white students were four to five times more likely to sale and use marijuana, heroin, cocaine, (powdered and crack), LSD, PCP, and designer drug derivatives, such as "ecstasy," "mushrooms," "speed," and "ice," than blacks. At the same time, legions of articles, news features, and TV specials are crammed with stories of high-profile white stars, starlets, and athletes who openly brag or cry about their drug escapades. And ala Robert Downey, Jr., they create oceans of public empathy for their heroic battles against addiction. Yet, the lop-sided drug use by young whites ignites no outcry for mass arrests, prosecutions, and tough prison sentences for them. It would be political suicide for any public official to dare suggest that police profile white drug users as a tactic to win the drug war. Yet many police officials have no compunction openly advocating, as the former New Jersey state police commissioner did in 1999, (at the cost of his job after mass black outrage), or privately defending the practice if used against blacks. As absurd as it sounds, a fictional case can be made for cracking down on young whites traveling on our highways, and streets, based on a standard drug user profile. But it would not win even a mild skirmish in the nations unwinnable drug war. The drugs would still flow just as freely in the suburbs, on college campuses, and in chic offices as it does in the ghettoes. It would, however, criminalize a generation of young whites, further obliterate civil liberties protections, and create grotesque racial stereotypes about crime and criminals. In other words, it would do the exact same thing that racial profiling has done to a generation of young blacks.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Disappearance of Black Leadership. email:firstname.lastname@example.org
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