Sunday, January 31, 2010

Could this be Racial Profiling?

Simply defined, racial profiling is the consideration that a member of a race or ethinic group is more likely to be involved in criminal behaviour due to his race or ethnicity. In the United States, the most common example of racial profiling is "driving while black" (DWB) - police target African-Americans for traffic controls because they believe African-Americans are more likely to be engaged in criminal activities. While racial profiling is illegal in most countries, it still prevails - certain people are being regarded as more likely to commit crimes simply because of their race or ethnicity. Unfortunately, not only the police make false assumptions about innocent people. A good number of ordinary citizens assume that certain people are more likely to commit crimes, which to them justifies disgust towards a race or ethnic group. Have you ever racially profiled someone? Betterstill, have you been a victim of racial profiling or DWB? Certain situations have left me asking myself - could this be racial profiling?

At about 5am, on a Saturday, in the winter of 2007, in the south-west coast city of Göteborg, Sweden - a 1.75cm (5.7 foot) tall, black male was driving home from work - in a 1992 Toyota 4runner SR5 SUV 4x4. He was pulled over by the police, one of whom approached the 4runner, gun-drawn. The approaching cop asked the driver of the 4runner to put his hands where he (the cop) could see them. With one hand, the cop opened the door and asked the driver to step out of the vehicle. The next thing the driver heard was, "händerna på taket (Swedish) - meaning, hands on the roof. The driver was searched by one of the cops and asked where he was coming from and where he was heading to, while the other cop pointed a flashlight into the SUV and asked the driver what he was carrying in the car. It is worth mentioning that the cops didn't even ask for a driver's license. After the brief search, the cops let the black male go, with the words - "today is your lucky day; See you around." Perplexed, he got into his 4runner and drove home. Could this be racial profiling? He wondered.

One year later, the same black male found himself in another shocking situation. You might be surprised, but this time, it was not a police incident. In the winter of 2008, in the southern city of Lund, Sweden, the 1.75cm (5.7 foot) tall black male law student of Lund University, entered a bank to make a deposit to his account. There were many people in the bank, so he walked to the queue number machine and took a queue number - as a matter of fact, he had to queue to get a queue number (it's normal in Sweden). When it came down to his turn, he did what you'd do - walk to the counter. As he approached the counter, he maintained eye contact with the middle-aged lady behind the counter and reached for his cell phone in the inner chest pocket of his winter jacket. You won't believe what happened - the counter staff freaked out! She was visibly frightened (with eyes popped out). The gentleman approaching the counter was, no doubt, shocked by her facial expression. When he took out his cell phone, the counter staff placed her hand on her chest, with a sigh of relief. By this time, her face was red (she blushed). Despite all the drama, the bank customer made the deposit to his account and left the bank, once again perplexed. Why was the bank staff frightened? Did she expect some kind of criminal behaviour from the customer because he was black? What did she think he was reaching for? And here's the big question: could this be racial profiling?

Make no mistake about it - racial profiling does not only occur during traffic stops! It happens in our everyday interaction with people.

NOTE: If you're stopped by the police and feel mis-treated, civil rights lawyers advise he following:
  • You are not required to give the police permission to search your car without a warrant. You can politely deny the request.
  • Don't argue!
  • Get the names of the officers, their badge and squad car numbers (license plate number, preferrably).
  • Make a note of the location and time of the incident.
  • Seek legal advise and file a complaint.
I look forward to reading your comments.

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