Racial Profiling: a Defense Mechanism or Blunt Racism?

Dating as far back during the Reconstruction time period, Jim Crow Era, up until now, racial profiling has been a highly debated issue. Racial Profiling refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin. Cases such as Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and along with many other African Americans males who were killed, beaten, or harassed by white male police officers sparked major controversy within the black community.

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However the effect of this issue vary amongst social activists, community leaders, media, justice department, white community, and white male police officers. While many social activists and community leaders feel as though these beatings and killings are morally wrong and unjustifiable; the media, justice department, white community, and white male police officers proclaim cases like these to be justifiable by using the claim of self-defense. Because various perspectives formed from many different aspects of society, the issue of law enforcement (racial profiling) has led to a tremendous dispute of whether police are targeting a particular group of people, or are their stringent protocol usage, killings, and brutality amongst blacks justifiable. Throughout my research paper, I will be using various texts from scholarly articles, news websites, and other sources to analyze each stakeholder’s point of view to conclude that racial profiling is stemmed from blunt racism.

In order to understand how racial profiling came about, one must first know its origin. Back in 1877 during the end of the Reconstruction period, a new set of laws were enacted called Jim Crow laws. These laws were named after a song and dance titled Jump Jim Crow performed by white actor Thomas D. Rice who wore black painting on his face mimicking Negroes. Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States that lasted from 1877 up until 1965. This mandated the separation of blacks and whites in public schools, public places, public transportation, restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains. How does this relate to racial profiling? Because of these laws, this created a major social disadvantage for African Americans including anyone of African descent (biracial/ creole folks) by degrading and perceiving them as inferiors to whites in society; perhaps this led to the vulnerability between blacks and white law enforcement.

Such act of racial profiling was first seen in the Plessy v. Ferguson case. In 1896, Homer Adolph Plessy was the plaintiff who was seven-eight Caucasian and one-eighth African that paid for a first-class seat on a Louisiana railroad. Plessy set in a whites only road cart and was instructed by the conductor to get out and move into a colors only road cart. When Plessy refused to do so, he was ejected from the train and imprisoned. He was prosecuted for violating the law, which Plessy felt as though it was unconstitutional, and violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. However, the Supreme Court agreed to decide the constitutionality of the law. It reasoned that, although the Thirteenth Amendment intended to abolish slavery, it was insufficient to protect the “colored” people from certain harsh state laws that treated them unequally. The Fourteenth Amendment was enacted “to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law but it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color or to enforce social as distinguished from political equality. The Court decided that the law establishing separate but equal public accommodations and facilities was a reasonable exercise of the Police Power of a state to promote the public good. This express the views of the justice department in the 1890’s that later changed in the 1950’s and 60’s with the help of the Brown v. Board of Education case, Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that put an end to the Jim Crow Laws. Although Jim Crow laws were claimed to be put to an end, yet were they really? In regards to racial profiling, events that proceeded in the following years made others feel otherwise.

On March 3, 1991, an American Taxi Driver by the name of Rodney King became known nationally after being fatally beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers following a high-speed car chase. Majority of the footage was captured by a local bystander, George Holliday, who eventually sent it to KTLA news station. When the video was released, this sparked major controversy within the black community. The four officers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. Three were acquitted of all charges. The jury acquitted the fourth of assault with a deadly weapon but failed to reach a verdict on the use of excessive force, which led to the 1992 Los Angeles Riots that resulted in many being killed. Almost two decades later, this act of racial profiling was still being seen. In 2012, Trayvon Benjamin Martin was a 17-year-old African American from Miami Gardens, Florida, who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in Sanford, Florida. Trayvon was unarmed and walking from the store carrying a pack of skittles and an Arizona Tea when he was approached by George Zimmerman and later shot to death. This gained nationwide attention also. However in this case, George Zimmerman was not charged with the murder of Trayvon Martin. From the media perspective, Martin was perceived as a thug. On an interview with Fox News, retire New York Police Department Officer Harry Houck voiced his opinion about the case by saying, Trayvon Martin would be alive today if he didn’t have a street attitude. Comments such as these also sparked controversy in the black community that led to protests similar to the L.A. riots that were known as the Black Lives Matter movement.

According to a Times-Picayune newsletter titled White America – not immune – to police brutality, author Leonard Pitts examines responses from Caucasian citizens about police brutality in America. Leonard reported that a while back, he was asked by a white lady named Tracy, What can I do? she asked, as a private citizen, to fight police brutality against African-Americans? Therefore, showing that there is racial disparity between police officers and certain group of people (blacks). In response to her question, another Caucasian citizen came along stating his opinion about police brutality. This individual name was Chuck. Chuck feel as though the racial component of police brutality is just a subset of the bigger issue, which Chuck goes on to explain by stating the following: No country on earth is policed as we are. We have too many law enforcement agencies and individuals. They are too heavily armed. They are too militarized. They are too quick to violence. They are rarely held accountable. The false narrative that exists regarding the dangers of police work creates an inordinate sense of fear. Mix that with guns and too much authority and you have a problem. We ” all of us ” have this problem. The hyper-violent policing that is practiced in this country is a disgrace. Yes, African Americans face it at higher rates, but that is all it is … a higher rate of the larger problem.(White America; not immune; to police brutality.” Times-Picayune, the (New Orleans, LA) From his perspective, Chuck perceive the issue of police brutality in America as not just something African Americans have to deal with, yet it’s just that they face the issue at a higher rate. However, he feel as though this is a tremendous issue for human rights. Basically, Chuck mainly sides with the All lives matter movement rather than just the Black lives matter.

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