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Racial Profiling of Minority Groups by the Police in the United States

Across the United States, many minority groups suffer from racial profiling and discrimination not only from the police but also in their neighborhoods. In addition, the use of psychological intimidation, verbal abuse, assault, and excessive physical force against them by the law enforcers has become a daily occurrence (Schwartz, 2020). While on the one hand, the incidents of police brutality are ever-increasing, on the other hand, the authorities deny engaging in biased racial impropriety activities. Jandt (2017) defines racial profiling as a discriminatory act of scrutinizing personal physical and facial characteristics by law enforcement officers to indicate or ascertain the likelihood of their criminal behavior. Although this practice was intended to aid in ensuring security, the officers have turned it into a biased stereotype and an ethnocentric policy used for traumatizing the minorities. This research paper will address racial profiling of minority groups by the police in the US through the analysis of background, theories, and concepts. It concludes by giving various recommendations aimed at curbing the vice.

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Background of the Study

The discrimination of individuals through profiling based on their ethnicity, religion, race, and origin has been experienced for decades. However, present cases of segregation against the minorities around the globe paint a bleak future for them. The United Nations organization (2019) highlights the plight of these groups by giving various examples of racial profiling among Africans, Hispanics, and Indians. According to law enforcement agencies, profiling is a compilation of individual characteristics ranging from behavioral, physical, and psychological traits. Consequently, the officers use the above information for decision making which in many cases leads to arbitrary arrests (United Nations, 2019). A study carried out on South America by the United Nations confirms how racial profiling is rampant in the region (United Nations, 2019). The study further expounds that Brazil’s criminal justice system has an overwhelming majority of Africans, even though they are a minority group in that country.

Furthermore, Haitian descendants in Honduras were mistreated and not accorded the required assistance in the acquisition of identity documents in the government registration offices because they were black. In addition, although many Dominicans did not have identity cards, only those with Haitian features of black skin were perceived to be criminals and illegals by the police (James & McGeorge, 2019). A study carried out in Canada by the Working Group of the United Nations in 2015 showed that racial profiling was rife in Toronto. The police practiced carding; a systematic approach of stopping, documenting, and questioning suspects that disproportionately targeted Africans. Further, an investigation team from York University collecting data at the Ottawa police department for traffic noted that there were high incidents of Africans being stopped at the traffic. The research revealed that between 2013 to 2015 the police stopped African drivers 7,238 times, which represented 8.8% of all cases and 2.3% more than was expected, even though they represented less than 4% of the driving population (United Nations, 2019). Notwithstanding, cases of mistreatment of minorities are common across the continents as highlighted from the above examples.

Racial Profiling and Discrimination in the United States

Racism in the US is nor a recent phenomenon since it became evident before the Civil War and can be traced to the period of Negro Registry, which was a way of tracking and identifying persons of color. For example, African Americans were required by law to show their identification to any white person when demanded during the colonial period in Virginia (Rivera & Rosenbaum, 2020). The identification was renewed after every three years and had the following information; name, stature, color, age, and the name of the court by which the Negro was granted freedom or emancipated. Rivera & Rosenbaum (2020) assert that after the Civil War, people of color were liberated from slavery in the Southern states, but only to return to racial discrimination after the Jim Crow legislation was enacted in 1880. The laws had a toll on many African Americans till the 1960s when they were fully repealed, ushering in the Civil Rights movement. However, the recent cases of police brutality have resurfaced discrimination through disguised racial profiling by law enforcement.

Consequently, it has been two decades since the United States legislatures in the House of Representatives passed the act which became an impetus in fueling discord between the police and the African American. The Traffic Stops Act which was unanimously passed and enacted by the Representatives in 1998 became the first attempt by any government body to activate police brutality (Harris, 2020). The act allowed to stop Hispanic and African drivers disproportionately for offenses and other crimes without evidence. Prior to this, the police and other law enforcement agencies had used this tact to target drug trafficking on interstates and highways across the US. Nonetheless, due to public outcry over the harassment by various criminal justice enforcers across the states, many legal suits were filed against the Maryland and New Jersey state police in the 1990s. Harris (2020) highlights that although the bill did not advance to the Senate to become law, it awakened many states as they passed many legislations on anti-racial profiling.

Moreover, the various legislations motivated the top organs to act, which resulted in the passage of the ERPA bill by Congress into law. Unfortunately, during the 2000 presidential debates, racial profiling and brutality by police emerged as a major issue. Following the presidential elections in 2000, George Bush vowed to eradicate the problem during his address to the Congress. While critically examining the presidential rhetoric of 2000, Harris (2020) asserts that for over two decades, there has been neither the end to racial profiling, nor the eradication of discrimination against blacks in the States. The author further to point out that,not all is lost since many police departments are making tremendous efforts in curbing racial profiling because it soils their image and reputation. To that end, they have reorganized their internal rules and regulation in prohibiting the vice among their officers. As such, they have come up with new policies and incorporated them into their training in addition to forming departments for the data collection on frisks and traffic stops.

The Current Status Racial Profiling in the US

The vice of profiling has been practiced in the US for long, but it was started officially in the 1980s by a police officer. Bob Vogel, who was a state trooper under the narcotics section and responsible for highway drug interdictions, started putting up profiles of drug traffickers (Harris, 2020). He put up lists of factors contributing to his big drug busts. His lists were selective in nature and incomplete since there he did not have rules to follow, using his instincts to stop drivers and search the vehicles. Only his busts were reported, and as a result, he became a celebrity among the other officers, was interviewed on many television networks, and became a Sheriff in Florida’s Volusia County.

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In addition, the DEA realized the success of Vogel and created a system of profiling individuals in an effort to curb drug trafficking across the US. It launched Operation Pipeline in 1986; a program funded by the federal government aimed at training police officers from across the United States and was required to train other officers upon returning to their counties (Legewie, 2016). The newly trained officers formed interdiction units whose tactics were simple: targeting black and Hispanic drivers on the highway since they were the likely suspects from the profiles they had conjured earlier. This was evident in New Jersey and Maryland in 1990 as the troopers who have been trained in the DEA federal Operation Pipeline program started an interstate patrol along the highways targeting profiled suspects (Harris, 2020). These raids were intensified along 1-95 in Maryland and the Turnpike in New Jersey. Subsequently, many lawsuits were launched opposing the police tactics as people based their rights on the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits racial discrimination witnessed through the vehicle stops.

Various writers have observed that race was the determining factor that the police considered in stopping drivers and searching vehicles. It was expected that the police were at liberty to stop any vehicle for inspection irrespective of the color of the driver, but this was never the case. Although officers stopped drivers for traffic checks, the blacks constituted the majority of the checks. For instance, they accounted for only 13.5 percent of the total population of drivers in the turnpike region of New Jersey, yet they were made up of 35% of the police stops (Harris, 2020). For instance, in 1996 in a court ruling, a judge confirmed that the state police at the Turnpike had been targeting drivers of African American descent for a long period of time. Likewise, a study carried out in Maryland found out that 17% of the drivers were black, but they accounted for 72 percent of the police stops.

Similarly, stop and search or frisk activities by the police have been on the increase over the years in New York. Legewie (2016) paints a gruesome picture by explaining that according to research done across the state of New York, such practices for minority groups increased tremendously from 2003 to 2011. According to the author, there were 160,750 to 684,000 stops and frisks in 2003 and 2011 respectively. However, they declined to 45,000 in 2014 in the wake of protests, but they are on the rise again. Additionally, from 2006 to 2012, the report indicates disproportionate stops of targeted minorities, whereby 32% involved Hispanics, 54% targeted African-Americans, and 10% were associated with Whites (Legewie, 2016). Although some argue that the racial disparities witnessed from the data above do not reflect discrimination, it is hard to explain the high rate of weapons and contraband confiscated among the white population.

Coupled with that, the use of force during frisking has been indicted as another form of discrimination. It has been observed that 25% of all police frisks use physical force, with 23.9% for Hispanics, 22.2% for blacks, and 16.4% for whites. In spite of that, in the Bronx and Harlem in police force used during stops is over 50% (Legewie, 2016). This statistics shows that minorities are the major target population for the police stops and its brutality, especially in New York.

The Merits of Social Profiling

Whereas there are negative effects realized by victims of social profiling by the enforcement organizations in the US, proponents of the police practice see that it is an effective way of curbing crime. The advocates base their reasoning on the utilitarian school of thought, according to which certain racial groups are prone to committing crimes and are therefore bound to be targeted disproportionately (Legewie, 2016). Besides, social profiling curbs and prevents major crimes against humanity like terrorism. Consequently, it is important to note that from this context such groups support profiling since it disrupts and deters a planned terrorist attack. They see it as a counter-terrorism strategy as indicated by the Homeland Department, which asserts that profiling of Muslims and Arabs enhances national security as they deter the planning of terrorist activities. Corbin (2017) writes that after the 9/11 attack in the US, the program was intensified as it forced those likely ‘terrorists’ to know that their admission into the US was temporary since they risked being deported. The pressure and tough conditions made them fearful and unable to carry a terrorist in the US.

Notwithstanding, it is believed that race and religion should be used in profiling Muslims given that these groups pose a threat to the nation’s security. Further, it is argued that through profiling, many attacks have been averted by authorities. For example, by using the approach, the US authorities were able to nab Maher Arar who had traveled to terrorist regions. He had been born in Syria, met Abdallah Almalki and was a technician who could detonate bombs (Corbin, 2017). Furthermore, if the Canadian authorities had profiled and paid the necessary attention to the Sikh extremists, they could have averted the Air India disaster. Due to inadequate racial profiling, they allowed a bag full of explosives aboard (Rae, 2018). Such situation can be seen as a risk management strategy as the profiling has a specific number of individuals being monitored, which helps in planning and resource allocation to fight an impending risk.

Demerits of Racial Profiling

Critics of the practice argue by pointing out substitution and profile evasion by targeted subjects. The assumption by the national security that profiling is a security measure is an unrealistic reasoning. Frequently, the terrorists study the national strategies and enter the country legally with valid documents like the case with 9/11, when terrorists entered the US with legally valid documents (Corbin, 2017). This, therefore, does not deter any person from entering the state with his or her terrorist ideologies

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While writing about immigration policies in Western countries, Natter (2018) asserts that countries need to change their approach to racial profiling. Besides, studies from the Canadian Authorities for Race Relations and Human Rights have voiced their concern on the ineffectiveness of the racial profiling practice. Moreover, M15 has reached the same conclusion on the futility of such a practice as part of the security strategy adopted by countries, particularly due to the fact that various illegal groups have learned to evade the set scrutiny.

Theories on Racial Profiling

There are various theories from which a broad spectrum of literature ranging from law to the area of criminal justice can be drawn. Back & Solomos (2020) highlight the importance of critical race theory, which resonates with racial profiling since the main tenet in this concept can be used to interpret policy brutality in the US. The theory visualizes how race is embedded in society, especially within intricate institutional structures. In addition, according to the theory of planned behavior, an individual’s behavior can be defined since one can explain a person’s intentions, actions, and the factors that influence such attitude (Ishoy, 2016). It has been used to evaluate the intended viz-a-viz the actual behavior of a person.

There are 3 mechanisms through which this theory can be used to understand the underlying human reactions in relation to behavior. First, it is an individual’s attitude towards a certain behavior; in this regard, if one perceives a reaction to be positive, he is likely to respond and engage in that activity. Conversely, if someone’s behavior is perceived to be negative, nothing will take place regardless of the external pressure. Secondly, the theory presupposes that the presence of stronger social pressure geared towards enticing a person enables one to be swayed into performing a given activity (Ishoy, 2016). Thirdly, it advocates for perceived behavior control by an individual, which depends entirely on the ability of a person to perform a given behavior. This is facilitated by skills acquired or a lack of skills for a person to carry out a given task. Ishoy (2016) remarks that through the theory, one is able to interpret and understand the enforcing behavior of police on the street that lead to impartial race profiling. Critical race theory and theory of planned behavior explain is why they are racially inclined to stop and frisk minorities because the behavior has become inborn.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In summary, racism is mainly associated with grouping people based on the ethnicity, and it has been perpetrated by the organizations meant to curb it. To that end, the use of brute force during the frisking and stopping of minority groups by the police remains a challenge, and all people need to come together to condemn it. On the other hand, although various legislations have been passed to eradicate all forms of discrimination and racism, more concerted efforts are required to stem this vice. Lastly, all citizens need to combat racial profiling regardless of race, creed, religion, and origin through a holistic approach to some of the issues that have continued to fuel the perpetuation of police brutality.

To realize the abovementioned goals, various recommendations should be implemented. To start with, the police departments should implement mandatory regular training for the officers to equip them with better ways of dealing with people of different races. Furthermore, setting up disciplinary systems where errand officers are suspended, fined, and jailed to serve as an example to others who intend to do commit such atrocities. The courts need to be stern and tough on officers found culpable of offenses. Besides, a mentoring system should be introduces, in which where police departments would have mentors who are highway supervisors meant to monitor the activities of their juniors and encourage them to act appropriately. The increment of police officers in the most densely populated areas will reduce confrontation from the citizens. Finally, providing body video cameras to police officers on duty will reduce their brutality since they will be monitored.


Back, L., & Solomos, J. (2020). Introduction: Theories of race and racism: Genesis, development and contemporary trends. Theories of Race and Racism, 1-31. Web.

Corbin, M., C. (2017). Terrorists Are Always Muslim but Never White: At the Intersection of Critical Race Theory and Propaganda. Fordham Law Review 86(2), 1-32. Web.

Harris, D. A. (2020). Racial profiling: Past, present, and future? American Bar Association. Web.

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Ishoy, G. A. (2016). The theory of planned behavior and policing: How attitudes about behavior, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control affect the discretionary enforcement decisions of police officers. Criminal Justice Studies, 29(4), 345-362. Web.

James, A. G., & McGeorge, C. R. (2019). Introduction to special issue on social justice in family science: An exploration of race and racism. Journal of Family Theory & Review. Web. 

Jandt, F. E. (2017). An introduction to intercultural communication: Identities in a global community. Sage Publications.

Legewie, J. (2016). Racial profiling and use of force in police stops: How local events trigger periods of increased discrimination. American Journal of Sociology, 122(2), 379-424. Web.

Natter, K. (2018). Rethinking immigration policy theory beyond ‘Western liberal democracies’. Comparative Migration Studies, 6(1). Web.

Rae, B. (2018). Lessons to be learned. Public Safety Canada / Sécurité publique Canada. Web.

Rivera, R., & Rosenbaum, J. (2020). Racial disparities in police stops in US cities. Significance, 17(4), 4-5. Web.

Schwartz S. A. (2020). Police brutality and racism in America. Explore (New York, N.Y.), 16(5), 280–282. Web.

United Nations. (2019). Preventing and countering racial profiling of people of African descent: Good practices and challenges. Welcome to the United Nations. Web.

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