Friday, July 24, 2009

Wilmer Leon - When Is Racial Profiling Not Racial Profiling?

Wilmer Leon

By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III

When is racial profiling not racial profiling? When the facts or circumstances fail to fit the accepted definition.

In 1999, the Oxford American Dictionary (OAD) provided a definition of racial profiling for the first time. “Racial profiling: an alleged police policy of stopping and searching vehicles driven by people from particular racial groups.” In 2005 the ACLU provided the broader definition as follows, "Racial Profiling" refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual's race, ethnicity, religion or national origin. Criminal profiling, generally, as practiced by police, is the reliance on a group of characteristics they believe to be associated with crime… Racial profiling does not refer to the act of a law enforcement agent pursuing a suspect in which the specific description of the suspect includes race or ethnicity in combination with other identifying factors.” Intent is a key element in evaluating this circumstance. It does not appear by any of the facts as stated that Sgt. Crowley focused on, targeted or arrested Dr. Gates based upon his race (human), ethnicity, religion, or national origin.

One unfortunate outcome of the Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. arrest in Cambridge, MA has been a rush to judgment by many who should know better. To immediately place Dr. Gates’ unfortunate arrest into the category of “racial profiling” does a great disservice to the volumes of cases that fit the accepted definition.

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