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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/14/13

Racial Profiling in the Post-Trayvon Era

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(Article changed on July 14, 2013 at 08:34)

George Zimmerman Found Not Guilty Of Trevon Martin Shooting
George Zimmerman Found Not Guilty Of Trevon Martin Shooting
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George Zimmerman Found Not Guilty Of Trevon Martin Shooting by zennie62

The jury in the Florida case of George Zimmerman has found him not guilty of murder or manslaughter in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. So now Zimmerman walks free, and will likely be rewarded with book deals and other lucrative offers. And people around the country - and the world - have been shown that you can shoot an unarmed black teenager and get away with it.

Zimmerman's acquittal appears to make a case for racial profiling. And that is very, very dangerous. Zimmerman pursued Martin because he thought the young black man seemed out of place in the neighborhood, and therefore threatening. I doubt he would have caught Zimmerman's eye if Trayvon were a white kid dressed in a preppie sweater.

Furthermore, Zimmerman's supporters have been all over social media in recent weeks defending the unfair profiling. For example:

beachcomber @anniebrown00
It is not racial profiling, it is situational profiling. So many blacks are criminals.

FreeDegree @LawatStPenn
@msnbc If NAACP want no profiling, change way young men act n their attire!

The above tweets (two drops in a very big bucket) propagate the myth that blacks are more prone to bad behavior, and that racial profiling is therefore justified. This mindset is not only inaccurate but downright dangerous.

Crime statistics are often misinterpreted and misunderstood, as African-American writer Chauncy DeVega explained in an essay last year:

The black people commit more crime canard is a fallacy of both process and outcomes. African Americans are subject to discrimination in the legal system at every level. As documented by The Sentencing Project, and detailed in such works as Race, Crime and the Law, and The New Jim Crow, African Americans are more likely to be stopped by police without cause, to be more aggressively questioned, receive longer and more severe charges for the same crimes as white defendants, and to have fewer resources to defend themselves in court.

As compared to white neighborhoods, black and brown communities are also subject to more severe surveillance and aggressive police tactics. Moreover, the disproportionate number of minorities in the criminal justice system can be largely explained by the War on Drugs. In total, if white communities were subject to the same type of aggressive police tactics as black and brown communities, the number of white people in prison would skyrocket.

The data is very telling here. While people of color are the prime targets of such policies as "stop and frisk" and racial profiling, it is in fact white people who are far more likely to be both drug users and to be in possession of narcotics at a given moment. This reality signals to a larger social phenomenon: black individuals who commit crimes are representative of their whole communities, crime is racialized, and there is no qualifier of individual intent. All black people are deemed suspicious and guilty because of the deeds of the very few.

In contrast, white people who commit crimes are unique individuals: the criminals who destroyed the global economy, a group of white men, were not taken as representative of the entire white community. There is a long list of crimes such as domestic terrorism, serial murder, child rape, sedition, treason, and financial fraud that are almost exclusively the province of white people. But again, whites as a group are excluded from suspicion or indictment as a "criminal class."

Racial profiling is a waste of time and can make us less safe. Multiple studies have shown that when police focus on factors such as race, they tend to pay less attention to actual criminal behavior. This is a dangerous trend that can inhibit effective law enforcement and ultimately endanger the lives of all persons who depend on law enforcement for protection.

Furthermore, a 2004 report by Amnesty International provides overwhelming evidence that racial profiling is not only ineffective and counterproductive in finding the real criminals, but that it also encourages hate and undermines national unity. The report was based on six public hearings nationwide and more than a year of intensive research. And, given the racial tension we see in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin's death, it is as timely now as ever.

We will be much better protected if law enforcement and security personnel (including neighborhood watch volunteers like Zimmerman) focus on what people are actually doing, and not on what they look like.

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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