Recent terror arrest further debunks racial profiling

Originally published in The Hill

After the bombings in New York City and New Jersey this week, local authorities and law enforcement worked expeditiously to identify and capture the culprit. It is to their credit that they found the primary suspects, Ahmed Khan Rahmani, within hours.

A local citizen also aided the arrest. New Jersey resident Harinder Singh Bains identified the suspect outside of his bar and reported him to the police. Bains was quick to assert that he was no hero and that he was just doing what any good person would do.

Immediately after the bombings, certain politicians called for increased profiling, particularly that of prospective immigrants and Muslim Americans.
There are a number of issues that are troubling about these remarks. First, there is no evidence to suggest that profiling people on the basis of their appearance makes us any safer. Rather, numerous studies show that profiling is a deeply flawed and ineffective method for security. For example, recent research by William Press, a professor of computer science and integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin, found that racial profiling is no more effective for catching terrorists than randomized sample methods.

In the case of the bombing this weekend, Rahmani was not found on the basis of random profiling. Bains used evidence — visual identification — to help capture the suspected bomber. Bains knew what the suspect looked like based on police reports, and he used that specific information to identify and capture him rather than using racial profiling to generalize.

When our political leaders call for profiling certain groups of people on the basis of individual actors, they create an environment where we become unreasonably fearful of people based on how they look. Furthermore, when our government and law enforcement uses profiling as a method for security, it sends the message to all citizens that it is okay to act on these fears by discriminating against anyone and everyone who belongs to these communities.

For example, every time airport security pulls me aside for additional screening simply because of my turban, it tells people that they should be fearful of me and that they have a right to treat me as a threat unless proven otherwise. Profiling nurtures fear, racism, and inequalities — each of these byproducts divide our society even further.

Profiling makes us weaker, not stronger. Profiling does not make us safer as a nation. It threatens our collective security.

If we follow suggestions to increase profiling, we would wrongly alienate all people simply because they look a certain way. If we heed such misguided calls, we would overlook the contributions of heroes like Mr. Bains, the man who helped capture Rahmani this weekend. Bains is an Indian immigrant and Sikh American, who fits a similar profile as the attacker, including brown skin and facial hair. If we accept the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric our leaders spew, we would alienate and marginalize entire groups of people who are critical components of our society.

It is critical for our nation, both strategically and ethically, that we abandon the practice of racial profiling entirely.

Racial profiling does not just affect those who appear to be Muslim. It impacts all minority communities in modern America. Black Americans have long been targets of racial profiling, and the current crisis of police killings and police brutality illustrates the dire consequences of allowing such unjust practices to continue. As our nation grapples the police murders of Terrence Crutcher and Keith Lamont this week, it is time that we all connect the dots and recognize what’s going on here.

In a nation where whiteness has been considered normative and “diversity” has been seen as secondary, it is easy to see why we have a tendency (and history) of perceiving minority groups on the basis of stereotypes. We are also aware that judging and treating people based on such stereotypes is an incredibly problematic and unjust practice. At a time when politicians are playing on our fears to manipulate votes, we must be even more vigilant than usual to ensure that we do not fall victim to such tropes and machinations.

It is time for us to confront and denounce practices that further institutionalize racism. We know that racial profiling is unethical, and we know that it makes us weaker. Too much is at stake – too many innocent American lives are at stake – for us to allow such discriminatory and wrongful practices to continue.

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