Breaking Glass

How Erewhon Ended Ethnic Profiling

Let me apologize.  A massive technical glitch, involving distortions of the fourth dimension, has prevented me from researching the column I intended to write about ethnic and racial profiling.  The column would have pointed out that many people who complain about profiling fail to define just what the term means.  They confuse blatant examples of crude racial discrimination—police stopping people solely on the basis of “Driving While Black”—with the intelligent and selective use of race and ethnicity as crucial factors in criminal investigation.  Some critics, the truly disingenuous, use the language of “profiling” to denounce the disparate effects of criminal-justice operations.  If black people are imprisoned at four or five times their presence in the overall population, this must be entirely the result of selective racial victimization.

Using these careless definitions, profiling has become a codeword for all manner of racial inequities in law enforcement.  Responding to these concerns, the Justice Department has now issued guidelines prohibiting federal agents from using race or ethnicity in routine investigations, though they may do so in cases involving terrorism and threats to national security.  This last point remains controversial, and the issue should be a major item in the 2004 Democratic platform.

As I said, however, I am unable...

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