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Racial Profiling: Trust, Ethics, Police Legitimacy


In contemporary societies, even such tolerant and multicultural as the Canadian one, racial profiling is a serious and urgent problem. Not only is it used to justify the illegal and anti-societal actions of some policemen, as it often happens in the United States, but it also has an impact on the everyday life of society. It impacts the way, in which people drive, study, work, communicate, socialize. To understand why racial biases appear and find ways to deal with them, it is necessary to examine the aspects of racial profiling.

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This paper will give a definition of racial profiling, explore its origins, and explain how it changed from legal practice to a form of discrimination. It will also show how the police use racial profiling to justify their actions and control the behavior of citizens. The author will argue that the reason, for which minorities are overrepresented in criminal statistics, is not that they commit more crimes than white people. The paper will demonstrate that racial profiling hurts various aspects of the lives of minorities. It will also propose effective measures to combat the racial biases that have appeared in the society because of racial profiling.

Critical Analysis of Research Sources

To perform the present research, the author has used scholarly sociological sources. Each of those sources helped the researcher to analyze a particular aspect of the examined problem.

The article by T.G. Gardner (2014) gives a comprehensive definition of racial profiling and outlines its primary aspects. Gardner criticizes the shallow and insufficient understanding of racial profiling that prevails in contemporary research literature. Instead, he proposes to put this phenomenon into a larger context and connect it to the concepts of race and criminality. Also, Gardner presents a statement that is incredibly important for this research. According to him, the reason behind the high number of crimes committed by minorities is that the police, following the principle of racial profiling, merely devotes more attention to minorities and the neighborhoods where they reside.

The landmark book by C. Tator and F. Henry (2006) presents an analysis of racial profiling in Canada. It challenges the widespread notions that Canada is a tolerant, multicultural country and reveals the actual problem that the country has. The authors examine the origins of racial profiling, describe how it is perceived in the society, and depict its consequences for the minorities.

The article by S. Wortley (2003) examines the connections between crime and race in Canada and the public perception of this connection. The author evaluates various theories that explain why minorities are overrepresented in national crime statistics. Substantial attention is devoted to the problem of racism in the Canadian justice system. Wortley emphasizes the necessity for those researching this issue to play a leadership role to help resolve this problem, which is one of the reasons the present research was conducted.

The article by J.C. Cochran and P.Y. Warren (2012) is devoted to the problem of the perception of minorities by the police. The authors present the result of their analysis of statistical evidence and prove that the evaluation of a citizen’s behavior made by a policeman is seriously influenced by the assumptions that exist regarding the race of that citizen.

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The study by J. Helleiner (2012) is focused on a narrow but essential subject: the impact of the racial profiling that exists in the US on the beliefs of the inhabitants of Canadian territories that lie close to the border with the US. The author has demonstrated that the biases of the neighboring country can penetrate the Canadian border and influence the minds of the citizens.

The Definition and Origins of Racial Profiling

Racial profiling can be defined as an assumption that a person should be regarded as a potential criminal based on their racial background. The primary institution that promotes and enforces racial profiling in society is the police. Being once a preventive practice that helped to discover criminal activities such as drug abuse, illegal immigration, and terrorist attacks, racial profiling grew to become a stereotype. Because of this stereotype, police forces started devoting more attention to minorities and, naturally, discovering more crimes committed by their representatives. In the meantime, white people might be committing the same number of crimes, but the lack of police attention prevents society from knowing this fact. In such a way, racial profiling turned into another form of discrimination, leading to frequent arrests and unjust accusations of minorities, as well as the inappropriate attitude of the police towards them (Gardner, 2014).

Reasons Why the Police Use Racial Profiling

Several reasons can be mentioned, for which the police enforce racial profiling and use it constantly. First, it helps them find more criminals (either the real ones or the wrongly accused innocents), thus demonstrating the public that they are doing a good job. Second, it allows them to find someone to be made guilty. For instance, if a real criminal is unknown, but a non-white person can be accused, the police might accuse them, and the public will most likely trust them because of the stereotypical views that are widespread among people (Cochran & Warren, 2012). Third and the most important, racial profiling gives the police more power and allows them to infringe on human rights when they find it useful (Wortley, 2003). The police know how strong the stereotypes are in society, and they rely on the strength of these stereotypes, using racial profiling as leverage to establish their control over the population.

Perception of Racial Profiling in the Society

As it was mentioned above, the reason, for which police find power in racial profiling, is that society enforces the racial stereotypes related to criminal activities. Such a problem exists in many contemporary multiracial societies. It is especially true for the United States, where the excess of racial profiling led to something that might be called a struggle between the police and black citizens. In Canada, despite the respectable label of “multiculturalism,” racial profiling in society is also a problem. Many Canadians believe that racial profiling is a recent phenomenon caused by the intensification of immigration. However, the experience of black Canadians proves that racial profiling has a long history in Canada. Even though the problem is not harsh compared to the United States, white Canadians are still used to thinking that immigrants or native people are more likely to be criminals than the people of their race (Tator & Henry, 2006, p. 56-59).

Impact on the Life of Minorities

Racial profiling has a severe negative effect on the life of minorities. They are more likely to be accused of a crime that they never committed. They are also more likely to be shot by the police during an arrest since the police either expect them to be dangerous and prone to resistance or do not value their lives and respect them as much as they value the lives and respect white people. Driving is also more complicated for minorities than for white people: the former is stopped far more often than the latter. Racial profiling has a strong impact on minority youth. Being seen as criminals and treated as such, young people are more inclined to become criminals, which further enforces the stereotype. Racial profiling also makes white people suspicious of minorities, which makes it hard for the latter to be hired, receive proper medical attention, get a bank credit or sign a lease contract (Tator & Henry, 2006, p. 59-65).

Racial Profiling in the US and Its Impact on Canada

It is well-established that the racial profiling problem in the US is especially harsh. This situation has a direct impact on racial profiling in Canadian territories that are close to the border with the US. In these territories, many white people hear about the situation in the US and believe that it is the minorities who are responsible for their image in society and, therefore, for racial profiling. Also, the opportunities for border mobility are limited for minorities, which is the effect of racial profiling. Both the residents and the authorities of the Canadian border territories believe that non-white immigrants from the US are more likely to commit acts of violence than white people who cross the border. The existence of such views on Canadian territory poses a threat to the well-being of Canadian minorities (Helleiner, 2012).

How to Combat Biases

Racial profiling should aid the police in preventing crimes but should not be the basis for an automatic assumption that all minorities are potential criminals. Racial profiling should serve justice and help achieve equality in society, keeping all people protected regardless of their racial background. It is therefore highly necessary to combat the biases that appear because of racial profiling. Two main ways can be proposed to handle this problem. First, popular awareness regarding this issue should be raised. The primary channels of information should be media (especially the Internet) and schools. The latter is important since, being taught not to trust biases, school students will grow up to be citizens that maintain equality. Second, the police should be accountable for who they are stopping, searching, and arresting. They should have less liberty in this question.

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In this paper, I have analyzed various aspects of racial profiling with the use of relevant research literature. I have performed a critical analysis of my sources regarding the chosen topic. In the paper, I have defined racial profiling and examined its origins. It was concluded that the reason, for which minorities are overrepresented in crime statistics is the special attention of the police to their behavior. Also, I have analyzed the public perception of racial profiling and biases, their negative impact on minorities, and the influence of the racial problems of the US on Canadian society. I have proposed the following ways to handle the problem: raise the popular awareness about racial profiling and increase police accountability.


Cochran, J.C., & Warren, P.Y. (2012). Racial, ethnic, and gender differences in perceptions of the police: The salience of officer race within the context of racial profiling. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 28(2), 206-227.

Gardner, T.G. (2014). Racial profiling as collective definition. Social Inclusion, 2(3), 52-59.

Helleiner, J. (2012). Whiteness and narratives of a racialized Canada-US border at Niagara. Canadian Journal of Sociology, 37(2), 109-136.

Tator, C., & Henry, F. (2006). Racial profiling in Canada: Challenging the myth of “a few bad apples.” Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

Wortley, S. (2003). Hidden intersections: Research on race, crime and criminal justice in Canada. Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, 35(3), 99-118.

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