The Rhetoric of Racial Profiling

27 Pages Posted: 20 Oct 2006

See all articles by Samuel R. Gross

Samuel R. Gross

University of Michigan Law School

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

Gross, Samuel R., The Rhetoric of Racial Profiling (October 2006). U of Michigan Public Law Working Paper No. 66, Available at SSRN: or

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)

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics