More on Racial Profiling at the Airport


It’s time for a long Labor Day weekend, and I’ve decided to actually detach myself from my computer until Monday. But before I go, I have a few more thoughts on racial profiling as a follow up to my previous post.

As I’ve said before, I am against profiling strictly by race. First of all, there are clearly constitutional issues with this. I assume that this specific type of profiling means that people of a certain race will be subject to secondary screening at the airport. If that’s the case, then I’d say the fourth amendment says this isn’t okay:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

I’d say that’s a pretty unreasonable search, and I think it’s safe to say that just because there are Muslim terrorists in the world that it’s not probable cause to search them all. (To be fair, I’m no pro in constitutional law either.)

Even if we were to agree that Muslims are more likely to be terrorists, how are you going to pick them out? Racial profiling would focus on Arabs and, thanks to ignorance, probably on other groups like Sikhs and Hindus. That means Muslims who don’t look like they’re from the Middle East get left out. Take a look at Indonesia – a Muslim country with people who look Asian. They’d walk right through.

The sophisticated terrorist groups that we’re most worried about will find a way around strict racial profiling. They’ll find women, they’ll find Asians, and they’ll find Caucasians as well. That’s why on top of being unconstitutional, it just won’t work.

Yet somehow this idea seems to keep catching on. A poll released by Quinnipiac University posed this question:

“In order to prevent terrorism at places like airports and subways, should authorities be able to single out people who look like they might be of Middle Eastern origin to search or question?”

Sure enough 60% said yes. Of course, Republicans and men were much more likely to say yes than Democrats and women, but in every one of those groups, there was a still a majority supporting it. The only time there were more people against it was in the age group 18 to 34. As you might have guessed, as you get older, you become more likely to support profiling. (72% of those over 65 support it.)

We could focus on how the question assumes that racial profiling would actually prevent terrorism, something that probably isn’t true, but that doesn’t matter. This is still very representative of the climate today.

And it gets even more fun than that. Benet Wilson has a couple of comments here with a followup here about the completely ridiculous idea of separate lines for Muslims in airport security. Have people completely lost their minds?!? (To be fair, it came from the talking heads at Fox News, so the answer to the question in this case is “yes.”)

The point of this whole thing is that every American needs to stop and think about what’s going on these days. A few years ago, there were plenty of people saying that racial profiling was wrong. Now it has somehow crept into the mainstream as a good idea, regardless of the constitutional violations. Today it seems crazy to talk about Muslim-only lines, but what will we think tomorrow? These things are being driven by fear, and it’s not a rational fear either. We are constantly reminded of the possible terrorist threat, and that causes us to act in a way we wouldn’t normally act.

What about the guy that wore a t-shirt with Arabic script saying “We will never forget” right above the English translation? Even though he cleared security (and no doubt had secondary screening), he was made to remove the shirt before boarding the plane. People are said to have complained about the shirt, but what gives them the right to say he needed to remove it? He has the right to free speech. It doesn’t even violate anyone’s definition of decency that I’ve ever seen. The only issue is that it was written in Arabic script. And that now scares people enough that they made him remove his shirt.

Just stop and think about these things sometime before you firm up your opinions on these issues. Things like racial profiling that are so popular today aren’t really going to solve the problem.

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