America: Land of the Free? Not if You're
January 18, 2005
recent Cornell University survey found that almost half of all Americans
believe that the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties
of Muslim Americans. This bigoted, racist attitude is quite simply
appalling. It essentially favors racial profiling; yet a recent
report by Amnesty International presents strong evidence indicating
that racial profiling does not work.
Amnesty's report was based on six national public hearings and
more than a year of intensive research. The report provides overwhelming
evidence indicating that racial profiling is not only ineffective
but actually impedes the process of finding the real criminals,
encourages hate, and undermines national unity. Just as racial profiling
has failed in the "war on drugs," it is likewise doomed to fail
in the "war on terror."
Proponents of racial profiling might argue that the 9/11 hijackers
were all Muslims, and so Muslims are more likely to initiate further
terror attacks against Americans and should be scrutinized accordingly.
Some call this "hunting where the ducks are." Using that logic,
however, why did we not crack down on white, European-American men
after Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma
City in 1995?
Racial profiling gives terrorists a formula for greater success.
It tips off criminal networks about who needs to be recruited in
order to be more effective. This is illustrated by the U.S. government's
experience in World War II when, despite the massive internments
of Japanese Americans and visitors, none of the people convicted
of spying for Japan were of Japanese or Asian ancestry.
Moreover, the arrests of John Walker Lindh (a white, middle-class
male), Jose Padilla (an Hispanic gang member), and Richard Reid
(a British citizen of West Indian ancestry) suggest that terrorists
have already been successful in recruiting a diverse group of sympathizers
who by their nature could not be identified through racial profiling.
Similarly, over a period of months in 2003, a white male college
student from Maryland smuggled box cutters, bleach, matches, and
an item of the same consistency as plastic explosives onto six airplanes.
He was able to pass through airport security because he did not
"fit the profile."
Multiple studies have shown that when police focus on factors
such as race, they tend to pay less attention to actual criminal
behavior. This is a dangerous trend that can inhibit effective law
enforcement and ultimately endanger the lives of all persons who
depend on law enforcement for protection.
According to the U.S. Constitution and international laws and
treaties, every person has the fundamental right to equal protection
under the law regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or national
origin. This includes Muslim Americans.
Curt Goering, Senior Deputy Executive Director of Amnesty International
USA, summed it up well: "Racial profiling is to the 21st century
what Jim Crow laws were to the last, turning entire groups of people
into second-class citizens and denying them the rights to which
we all are due."
Targeting people for investigation based on arbitrary factors
such as race is clearly ineffective and profoundly unjust. We will
be much better protected if law enforcement and security personnel
focus on what people are doing, and not on what they look like or
whether they worship in a church or in a mosque.
Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. She
currently serves as Philadelphia Area Coordinator for Amnesty International,
and her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues
have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines
worldwide. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.