Racial Profiling: How Is This Still A Thing?

image from The Cagle Post

If you’re familiar with HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, you might be familiar with a segment they call, “How Is This Still A Thing?”  They ponder the continuing existence of questionable holidays, customs, and trends such as Columbus Day, Daylight Savings Time, and (groan)…

Dressing Up As Other Races (video from Last Week Tonight, May 11, 2015)

So, allow me to contribute a short but equally maddening subject that also deserves being called out…

…racial profiling.  How is THIS still a thing?!!

Racial and/or ethnic profiling by law enforcement is never justifiable and has no place in American society. It goes against the principles laid out in the Fourth and the Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution (Harcourt, 2004). It becomes an illegal search when a group of people are being targeted and no longer provides individuals in that group equal protection of the state, and by extension, federal laws.

To establish a point of clarification (as if it needed it), racial profiling with regards to the United States law enforcement is the subjection of individuals belonging to a certain ethnic or racial category to increased scrutiny, intrusion, etc. because they are suspected as primarily involved with criminal behavior (Morgensen, 2019).

image from eji.org

Or Exhibit A.

Although one could do this type of profiling in multiple ways, the two most stand out are unfair traffic stops of racial minorities with intent to find illegal narcotics and the prejudicial attempts to body search and prevent ethnic Muslims, perceived or otherwise, as a defensive counter-terrorism measure.

A Wake Forest University Associate Professor of Law wrote:

“Although mildly inconvenient, traffic stops are necessary not only for enforcing traffic rules and deterring traffic violations, but they are generally beneficial for broader public safety concerns.  For many people, traffic stops are simply part of life.  For many racial minorities, however, especially African-American and Latino men, even a routine traffic stop takes on an entirely different meaning.”

(Simmons, 2011)
image from riaclu.org

Or Exhibit B.

Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said the most famous (or infamous) counter-argument to this notion in defense of the city’s “stop and frisk program, namely that sometimes racial profiling can be necessary for effective law enforcement. He also insisted that black residents are disproportionately involved in crime (Horowitz, 2015).


In the same vein of human rights violations is the pervasive thought that all Muslims are terrorists.  Kambiz Fattahi’s (2007) experience of being singled out based on his appearance while supporting a classmate in Georgetown brings to light that, although it was university policy to refrain from racial and ethnic profiling, an investigation in the matter resulted in the dismissal of the charges. Nowhere is this injustice more apparent than in the airport.  Post 9/11, race-based discrimination has ranged from the degrading strip search of a Pakistani-American woman to the murder of a Sikh who isn’t even a Muslim (Chandrasekhar, 2003).

Political cartoon for Los Angeles Sentinel

Or (sigh) Exhibit C.

Again, racial profiling supporters say that it is based on statistical fact and represents “smart law enforcement.”  But the truth is, researchers, do not have enough empirical evidence that leads to ethnic profiling being an effective counterterrorism measure (Harcourt, 2006).

On the surface, it does seem easier to group people into categories like Muslim means terrorist, or Black and Latino means criminal, than evaluate everyone based on their background and values.  But aside from it being illegal (see Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution), it is a practice that is rooted in fear of the unknown, over-generalization of certain ethnic groups, and a narrow-minded outlook that illustrates the worst examples of extreme, unadulterated prejudice.

To quote John Oliver, “and now this…”

video by Vox in conjunction with ProPublica (Nov 16, 2017)


  • Chandrasekhar, C. A. (2003). Flying while Brown: Federal Civil Rights Remedies to Post-9/11 Airline Racial Profiling of South Asians. Asian Law Journal, (Issue 2), 215. Retrieved from https://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu
  • Fattahi, K. (2007, May 25). Does US insecurity put liberty at risk? Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6689897.stm
  • Harcourt, B.E. (2004). Rethinking Racial Profiling: A Critique of the Economics, Civil Liberties, and Constitutional Literature, and of Criminal Profiling More Generally. The University of Chicago Law Review71(4), 1275. Retrieved from
  • Harcourt, B. E. (2006). Muslim Profiles Post-9/11: Is Racial Profiling an Effective Counter-terrorist Measure and Does It Violate the Right to be Free from Discrimination? John M. Olin Law & Economics Working Paper, (288), 2nd ser. Retrieved from https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu.
  • Horowitz, E. (2015, November 1). A look at racial profiling. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/11/01/what-are-arguments-for-and-against-racial-profiling/F0DlnqVZk7aUXolRuHc0LJ/story.html
  • Mogensen, A. (2019). Racial Profiling And Cumulative Injustice. Philosophy & Phenomenological Research98(2), 452–477. Retrieved from https://doi-org.libproxy.chapman.edu/10.1111/phpr.12451
  • Simmons, K. C. (2011). Beginning to End Racial Profiling: Definitive Solutions to an ElusiveProblem. Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, 18(1), 25-54. Retrieved January 28, 2018, from http://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/crsj

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