Would Profiling Make Us Safer?

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I was flipping channels the other night right after the revelations about the terror plot were uncovered. I came upon Scarborough Country, the host is Joe Scarborough, a retired Republican Congressman from Florida. He had on his show, author, Michael Smerconish, whose book “Muzzled,” basically argues that we need to adopt some form of profiling in order to avoid terror attacks.

Scarborough said: “the suspects in this terror plot fit the same profile of those who killed Americans on 9/11, who killed British in the London attacks, who killed Spaniards in the Madrid bombings, who killed U.S. sailors in the USS Cole explosion, and of course, and all the other terror plots.”

Smerconish said: “by process of elimination, I can tell you who they‘re not. And Thurston Howell II (ph), some guy with whales on his pants from country club suburban America, is not out there wreaking havoc on our airlines, is not seeking to blow up in mid-flight. And I think that law enforcement needs to take that into account at both our borders and at our airports. I mean, the reality is, it‘s radical Islam.”

The amazing thing about all of these talk show-type hosts is that when someone disagrees with them, they ask the toughest questions in the world and really push the guests. When someone agrees with them, they do not ask very tough questions at all. If I were ever to unfortunately be foisted on American viewers, I would ask tough questions regardless, it’s the only way to really get at the good tough truth.

And we did not in this case, because, Scarborough didn’t ask the questions that needed to be asked. In the case of 9/11 and the case of whatever they are calling this foiled attempt–how would profiling have made us safer?

A couple of points here. First, they were using common products to make explosives. So it seems to reason that they would not have caught these people with a routine check. Now maybe, you could argue that they could interrogate the information out of the collaborators, but that would presuppose a level of ingenuity I have not found at airport security. It’s possible that if they pulled over every single Muslim flying a plane, someone could have asked the right question and figured it out.

More likely, the only way to catch these people was the way they did, using security and not racial profiling.

That brings me to a second point. What does a Muslim look like? Muslims of course inhabit large areas of Africa, Asian including the near East, Middle East, East Asian, the Sub continent, and even parts of Europe. I’ve known Muslims who look like Mexicans. So basically in order to truly profile, you’d have to pull over all non-whites. I can see why some people have no problem with this policy.

But again, given what the hijackers on 9/11 used, the fact that the materials were seemingly innocuous and wouldn’t have raised much suspicion, I suspect that once again, profiling is the lazy-person’s way out of a very tough situation. If they can create explosives from household products, how are you going to catch them?

In the meantime, in the name of safety, people ditched sometimes hundreds of dollars worth of products and medicines. Fear and deprivation of liberties are huge costs and prices to pay in each attempted terror attack. Each time, the terrorists even threaten, liberty is taken away from the citizens of this country. In our fear, we allow the terrorists to win a not-so-small victory as we seek to continue to respond.

Now I bring this up as a segue to a problem in the Davis community. And that is racial profiling by the police. The police claim they don’t do it, but if you talk to any number of minorities in this community, it is clear that they do. According to the Davis Police website, “bias profiling is defined as the detention, interdiction, or other disparate treatment of any person based solely on their sex, religion, race, color, ethnic status, sexual preference, ancestry, age, marital status, medical condition, or physical handicap.”

So it is against department policy to pullover an individual based solely on any number of factors. And minorities are regularly stopped and asked questions. The question is usually either are you from a certain city (often Oakland or Sacramento) or are you on probation. More research is needed on the local gang interdiction efforts, but it the former question is aimed at establishing gang activity. West Sacramento has a much more extensive program, but there have been stories in Davis of police officers detaining individuals of color and then using coercion methods to make people sign declarations of membership in gangs. Gang interdiction seems to be one of the few available sources for external money.

This problem has been going on for quite some time. A lot of people have left this community because they have grown tired of the hassle and the lack of official steps to reduce the problem. There also seems to be a legitimate fear of crime and a willingness to violate the rights of others to make the community safer. A resident, a self-proclaimed liberal, was involved in a conversation on racial profiling. That person was asked if a crime was committed by a black person in Davis, would the police be justified in pulling over every black person. That person responded yes. And was adament about it, stating that they did not care, they just wanted to be safe.

That is the attitude of some in this community toward racial profiling. I wish I had a chance to ask that person a follow up question. Mine would have been, if the crime was committed by a white person, should the police pullover every white person in Davis until they find the culprit. I wonder what the answer would have been then.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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