A Brief Tutorial On Profiling

In the maelstrom of controversy prompted by Arizona’s fascist approach to illegal immigration, the airwaves have been flooded by analysts from the Right defending the law. Defenders of the law, with a profound — and new-found — disgust for the very idea of racial profiling, insist that in the hunt for undocumented Mexican workers, requiring authorities to check the residency papers of people who might be here illegally is somehow not . . . racial profiling.

The example given — I’ve heard this a few times a week — is that this is no more “racial profiling” than following up on suspect descriptions by the police would be. If, for example, someone calls the cops to report an assault by a 6′ 5″ bearded white man in a red turtleneck, jeans, and a black baseball cap, carrying a Louisville Slugger and a Big Gulp, is it “racial profiling” for detectives to look for a tall white guy with a beard, a baseball bat and a red turtleneck sweater? So isn’t the Arizona law kind of the same thing?

Well, no. And it’s hard to add a “nice try, though” to such a disingenuous plea.

In the example above, the assailant is a tall, bearded white guy in a red sweater. The suspect is described as such, and so the cops are on the lookout for a tall, bat-wielding white man; they’re not likely to detain short Black women, tall blonde supermodels, or Asian men in green tank tops. And when the cops find a tall white guy with a beard, a red sweater, and a black baseball camp, it’s logical that they would wrestle him to the ground and demand to know where he dumped the Big Gulp and the bat.

But our suspect is detained because he matches the description of a specific person who committed a specific crime. Under Arizona law, Latino people can now be detained and forced to produce papers because SOME Latino people have crossed the border illegally, and ALL Latinos, looking, speaking, and surnamed as they are like Latinos, are automatically considered suspects of NON-INSPECIFIC instances of illegal activity. The red-sweatered, bearded white guy is detained because he appears identical to a man who committed a crime. In Arizona, Latinos can be detained because ALL of them could be like SOME of them who MAY have done something illegal.

I think I probably don’t have to reiterate the obvious absence of “probable cause” in the latter example; it exists so clearly in the former that no reasonable person would object to the police detention of the tall white guy, and in fact would consider it gross stupidity to focus on anyone else. My prayer is that these same reasonable people would recognize the gross stupidity from a law enforcement perspective, and the creeping fascism from a humane one, of Arizona’s approach to undocumented workers. In the one case, we have a single person matching a single description; in the other, an entire ethnic group falls under suspicion simply because others of their race commit crimes.

It’s chilling that an argument so weak even gets a hearing on the airwaves, and so it has to be debunked and rebuked here on Prevailing Winds. Fortunately, truth doesn’t depend on a huge audience; tragically, though, a huge audience, as Hitler said, can be persuaded to behave despicably if you simplify the lie and repeat it often enough.

He’d be well pleased with life in Arizona these days.

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