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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Profiling is Good Police Work

From my most recent radio commentary:

On December 14th, 1999, Benni Antione Noris waited to board the ferry in Victoria, Canada. In his Chrysler 300M, he drove up to the Canadian customs office, flashed his Canadian passport, and drove onto the ferry without incident. Mr. Noris – aka Ahmed Ressam – was a young, 30 year old Middle Eastern looking male from Montreal who declared his destination to be Los Angeles. As the Canadian government was not doing any racial profiling, Mr. Ressam was not asked any extra questions or given extra security checks, even though there was a known worldwide threat from Islamic extremists who were threatening to disrupt the millennial celebration.

However, the United States was profiling. Any young, Middle Eastern males with suspicious travel arrangements (like driving across Canada to get to L.A.), were to receive a few extra questions. Mr. Ressam was asked these questions, and when he began to get nervous, to sweat, and to avoid eye contact with the U.S. customs agent, she told him after calling for assistance that they would be searching his vehicle. Mr. Ressam fled, and was caught almost immediately afterward. He had 130 pounds of high explotives with accelerator devices and detonators in his car, planning to attack LAX on New Year’s Eve. He was a member of al-Qeada.

Racial profiling works. Of course, it does not work in a broad, general respect. After all, if the profile was purely racial – all Arabs – the workload would likely far exceed the payoff and lead to complacency. However, using race as part of a profile that includes age, sex, and travel arrangements (like a one-way ticket, a last minute purchase, no checked bags, and traveling alone) is very effective.

Detractors of profiling declare that it is humiliating to those who are searched. However, these same detractors have no problem with random searches. Why is this? If the security personnel will check 10% of passengers, why will the search be acceptable if a man is chosen at random, but not acceptable if that same man is selected because he fits a profile? How is one offensive and the other perfectly fair?

Consider this: no elderly African-American woman has ever committed a terrorist attack. All of the 9-11 terrorists were Arab males under 40. Why would it be acceptable to search that elderly woman, but not that young Arab man?

Essentially, we have two choices when it comes to the security of our nation and our citizens. One, we can reduce our efforts to those most likely to be Islamic extremists who tend to follow a certain profile. We conduct the same searches and questioning with them that we do the non-Arabs who receive random security checks, thus preserving their equality under the law. The other option is that of the ACLU – to hope we can catch the terrorists through random searches – also known as blind luck, or chance. I don’t want the security of my family left to blind luck and chance – do you?


  • This is one of the great examples of why balance is so important. Racial profiling often means cops pulling over drivers just because they are black, etc. Racial profiling is a form of institutionalized racism, pretty much by definition. Does that mean it's always wrong? Well, maybe not. But we need watchdog groups to costantly monitor stuff like this. The ACLU doesn't always win, but the help prevent abuses in the system. Should we trust the government to monitor itself?

    There are many groups out there that I often disagree with but serve a useful purpose in society, both on the right and the left.

    By Blogger Mark, at 3/03/2005 07:22:00 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/03/2005 11:04:00 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/04/2005 04:42:00 PM  

  • As much as I hate to admit it, Mark, I think you are right - that the government needs the ACLU. I do feel that the ACLU is far too powerful, in that it can bully local governments with threats of expensive lawsuits. It would be nice if they were truly interested in everyone's civil liberties, not just those on the left.

    Then again, I don't think the ACLJ is filing any briefs for the left...

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 3/04/2005 04:43:00 PM  

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