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The Rhetoric of Racial Profiling

Samuel R. Gross

University of Michigan Law School

October 2006

U of Michigan Public Law Working Paper No. 66

In 1988 racial profiling - the term, not the practice - was unknown. By 2000, twelve years later, everyone, from George Bush to Jesse Jackson, agreed that racial profiling is anathema. In this essay I review the brief and turbulent public career of racial profiling: its origins in hijacker and drug courier profiling, its flowering as a central aspect of drug interdiction on the highway, the ultimately successful efforts to expose and end that practice, and the political backlash it unleashed. Since 1999, no major American political figure has risked endorsing racial profiling, not even after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, although some programs they support fit the definition. Now that it is an acknowledged evil, many police departments work hard to avoid claims of racial profiling, while on the other side complainants in a host of contexts use the term to describe an extraordinary range of conduct. Along the way racial profiling may have become less common, but it has not disappeared.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 27

Keywords: racial profiling, racial discrimination, war on drugs, criminal justice, policing

JEL Classification: J78, K19

working papers series

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Date posted: October 20, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Gross, Samuel R., The Rhetoric of Racial Profiling (October 2006). U of Michigan Public Law Working Paper No. 66. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=938921 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.938921

Contact Information

Samuel R. Gross (Contact Author)
University of Michigan Law School ( email )
625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States
734-764-1519 (Phone)
734-764-8309 (Fax)

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