Racial profiling controversy
The racial profiling controversy in America has been about the use of race in suspect profiling. Opponents have claimed that racial characteristics have the potential for being abused, and on that grounds should never be used. Proponents claim that in some cases, members of minority groups commit proportionally more crime than other people, and on that grounds say race should be used. The term "racial profiling" is used in two or three different ways, which adds to the difficulty of covering the controversy.
"Racial profiling" in a general sense ought to mean the use of race to construct a criminal profile, i.e., a list of detectable characteristics of a criminal or a suspect. When asking for a description of an assailant or thief, police nearly always ask about skin color, along with height, weight, clothing, scars and tattoos because this helps them identify and apprehend them. Problems have arisen, however, when generalizations about race are abused to harass innocent people (see racial discrimination). In reaction to discriminatory abuse of racial profiling, some states and federal agencies have refused to consider race at all when constructing offender profiles, sometimes with absurd or tragic consequences.
The use of race in profiling came under fire when protest groups began to complain that police were making sweeps or traffic stops based mainly on race, and thus discriminating against innocent people. Such practices as stopping all blacks for questioning - when no particular crime was being investigated - came into question.
In reaction, many police forces and even the FBI began to be leery of being accused of stereotyping. The most prominent case in the tragic run-up to 9-11, when the FBI had cause to suspect a flight student. The FBI agent handling the case was told by their supervisor not to seek a warrant, even though the Arabic-looking man only wanted to learn how to steer a Boeing 747 but not do takeoffs or landings.
The ultimate question in the profiling controversy is whether the disproportionate involvement of blacks and Hispanics with law enforcement reflects police racism or the consequences of disproportionate minority crime. Anti-profiling activists hope to make police racism an all but irrebuttable presumption whenever enforcement statistics show high rates of minority stops and arrests.