The Rhetoric of Racial Profiling
27 Pages Posted: 20 Oct 2006
Date Written: October 2006
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.
Keywords: racial profiling, racial discrimination, war on drugs, criminal justice, policing
JEL Classification: J78, K19
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation