Saturday, August 1

Racial Profiling and Social Justice

“Over the years, I learned to smother the rage I felt at so often being taken for a criminal. Not to do so would surely have led to madness. I now take precautions to make myself less threatening,” writes Brent Staples, an author and editorial writer for the New York Times, in his essay “Black Men and Public Space.” After obtaining a degree, Staples was living in Chicago, where he proceeded to face racial profiling. One may define racial profiling as discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, or religious beliefs. The articles, “Law Enforcement Should Cease Racial Profiling” by Jesselyn McCurdy, “Profiling Japanese Americans During World War II Was Unjustified” by Eric Muller, and “Racial Profiling Should Be Eliminated” by Cathy Young all support the fact that ethnic and racial profiling is not always justified, and is indeed unnecessary. Catholic Social Teaching would hold that racism is not justifiable, and that we are each created with inherent dignity, value and worth, and should not be subjected to racism. Now, contrary to popular belief, racial profiling is not new. Historically, while racial profiling could theoretically be said to have been around as long as discrimination, we trace modern racial profiling to recent history.

Prior to World War II, Japanese-American relations could be considered nominal. However, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States retaliated. Shortly after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese ended their attempts to war with the United States. However, during World War II, the Japanese who were living in the United States faced discrimination and racial profiling. These individuals were sent to “internment camps,” which were allegedly not severe and not the kind of concentration camps as the Jewish nation faced. In both Muller’s and Young’s articles, they respond to a writer, Michelle Mulkin, who wrote a book titled In Defense of Internment: The Case for “Racial Profiling” in World War II and the War on Terror. According to Young, the anti-Japanese prejudice “was pervasive in America and especially on the West Coast even before Pearl Harbor, and was whipped up into virulent hate by a propaganda campaign after the start of the war.” 

Then, Young goes on to refer to “such unpleasantness as shootings of internees by camp guards” demonstrating that there may have been a bit more similarity between internment camps and concentration camps than imagined, but not as far as crematoriums. One of the reasons which the Japanese were interred is the risk of espionage, but Muller contends that the risk of espionage is not enough to justify internment. Lieutenant General DeWitt, in 1942, boldly declared that “the Japanese race is an enemy race, and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become ‘Americanized,’ the racial strains are undiluted” (qtd. in Muller). This is merely one example of the typical racist comments found among many individuals of the era. As Muller points out, though, while the Japanese Americans were imprisoned, the German Americans were largely ignored: “Germany was a more dangerous presence along the East Coast of the U.S. mainland for a far longer time than was Japan along the West Coast, and it twice landed saboteurs on Eastern shores” (Muller). The racism involved in such acts is evident. It is true that there likely were at least a few Japanese spies on American soil, but this did not give the government the right to imprison so many in the internment camps, the “miserable detention of tens of thousands of innocent American citizens of Japanese ancestry” (Muller). 

Undoubtedly, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, racial profiling and discrimination was less concerned with Japanese, Germans, Italians and African Americans (although African American profiling is still prominent), and more focused on Muslims, Arabs, and anyone who looked Middle-eastern. The historical paradigm of the Asian discrimination was now of less concern, and Arab profiling, particularly with Muslims, became prominent - and has sparked a hot debate. This debate revolves around “ethnic, racial, and religious profiling as a ‘homeland security’ measure” (Young). As a result of 9/11, “some civil libertarians have denounced every antiterrorism policy that singles out Arab men as repetition of the terrible mistake the government made after Pearl Harbor” (Muller). However, when the Japanese internment camps are compared to the measures taken against Arab terrorists, there is a rather large variance between “asking Arab male airline passengers some extra security questions and forcing American citizens behind barbed wire in the high desert for three years” (Muller). 

Racial profiling, which is essentially based on stereotypes, is described by McCurdy as a violation of “our nation’s core values and our basic constitutional commitment to equal justice under the law.” This persecution and discrimination is racist and is not justifiable. Racial profiling is hurtful, and is against the freedom entitled to all men under the Declaration of Independence, who are “created equal,” as well as a denial of the inherent dignity upheld in Catholic social justice. Further - it denies various human rights found in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). In fact, this profiling is the “heavily disproportionate incarceration of people of color, especially young men, for drug related crimes, and of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians for suspicion of terrorism” (McCurdy). The aforementioned author Brent Staples described a situation, where “One day, rushing into the office of a magazine I was writing for with a deadline story in hand, I was mistaken for a burglar.” Such situations, Staples says, are common. Staples is an African American. He continues, “The office manager called security and, with an ad hoc posse, pursued me through the labyrinthine halls, nearly to my editor's door. I had no way of proving who I was. I could only move briskly toward the company of someone who knew me” (398) African American profiling clearly is still occurring to this day, demonstrating that it is not merely Arab profiling which occurs – although Arab profiling seems to occur more frequently, particularly at airports. When I was recently coming back from Italy, I made my way through U.S. security, customs, and so forth. The stronger security and the bias seemed fairly evident toward individuals from the Middle-East. 

When he was in office, President George W. Bush called racial profiling “wrong in America,” yet little has been done to “stop officials from relying on race or ethnicity when deciding to initiate traffic stops or other investigate activities” (McCurdy). From the Japanese internment camps to the current discrimination against African Americans and more prominently, those of Arab descent, racial profiling is evident, not only historically, but socially. Unmistakably, racial profiling has not simply begun in the last ten years, but has been noticeable throughout history. While it is true that we have been able to catch some criminals and terrorists through racial profiling, surely there is a better way to go about stopping criminals and terrorists before they act. Imprisoning Japanese Americans, who were law-abiding citizens, as well as recent cases of Arab Americans having been detained for months even though they had done nothing wrong simply based on their race, demonstrates the continual practice of racial profiling, and while in certain cases it has proved beneficial, nevertheless, it infringes on liberties as an American citizen. There must be an easier and more specific way to stop criminals and terrorists without subjecting innocent citizens to unjustified racial profiling. 

Sources Consulted
McCurdy, Jesselyn. "Law Enforcement Should Cease Racial Profiling". Criminal Justice. David M. Haugen, Ed. Opposing Viewpoints® Series. Greenhaven Press, 2009. "Racial Profiling: 'Wrong in America'," Afro-Netizen, December 7, 2007.

Muller, Eric. "Profiling Japanese Americans During World War II Was Unjustified" Racial Profiling., Ed. Opposing Viewpoints® Series. Greenhaven Press, 2009. "Indefensible Internment: There Was No Good Reason for the Mass Internment of Japanese Americans During WWII," Reason, vol. 36, no. 7, December 2004. 

Staples, Brent. “Black Men and Public Space.” Eds. Linda H. Peterson and John C. Brereton. Ed. The Norton Reader. 12th ed. New York: Norton, 2008. 396-398. Print.

Young, Cathy. "Racial Profiling Is Never Justified" Race and Ethnicity. Uma Kukathas, Ed. Contemporary Issues Companion Series. Greenhaven Press, 2007. "Defending Repression," Reason, November 2004, pp. 19-21.

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