Racial profiling has been a prominent topic throughout the history of criminal justice both in the United States and in other countries around the world. The United States is one of many nations with a tarnished history of slavery and other disgusting habits regarding the treatment of races with other examples including Japanese internment camps during World War II and the treatment in general of the Native Americans that have and in many cases still do inhabit certain corners of the United States. Even with all that bad history, the arguments regarding racial profiling are not all against the topic. The most commonly cited reason for this is that minorities are often tabbed as being more likely to offend criminally than non-minorities. While some may pick some nits with whether these stats are at least in part due to the fact that minority-dominated neighborhoods are patrolled by police much more than white neighborhoods, there is at least some potential credence for the idea since poverty is often seen as a driver of crime and poverty affects minorities disproportionately as compared to white sectors of society. That all being said, assigning any propensity for crime based on race, gender, ethnicity or any other trait for factor that itself has nothing to do with crime is wrong and should never be happening.
One major reason that criminal justice enforcement and activities tends to arc towards subjects of race is because when an eyewitness to a crime and its suspect(s) describes the subjects, there is almost always at least some mention of race and it can sometimes dominate what the eyewitness uses to describe the suspect. Put another way, if a person or police officer is describing a suspect, the two major things they will describe are the race and the age profile of the person and perhaps height and weight on top of that. Something that has pushed that trend even further, rightly or wrongly, is the advent of more advanced DNA technology that can use a DNA/tissue sample from a scene to help get at least an idea as to the complexion and race of the person that committed a crime and/or is a person of interest regarding a crime (Fox).
Many judges are apparently not at unease with the fact that racial description and singling out is such a potential problem but it gives a great many scholars and other educated people much more pause. For example, a police officer looking for a man that is black and roughly six feet tall in an urban area with a high black population is likely to run across a number of subjects that are entirely innocent yet meet the description. Unless there is other characteristics such as clothing, weight, tattoos or something else that is more unique to a person regardless of race, it is almost a certainty at times that complete innocent people will at least temporarily (if not much longer) ensnared in a legal situation that is not of their doing or creation (Fox).
The bulk of the research that looks at racial profiling, how much it occurs, how much of it is legitimate, how much of it is unseemly and so forth focuses on particular point in the racial profiling process and that is what truly urges and causes a police officer to make a stop on a particular subject. However, it should be noted that a major caveat to this argument is that even after a stop is made, the officer still has a significant amount of discretion as to what to do after the stop has been started up to and including searching the suspect, searching their car, questioning what they're up to and/or just letting them go. The stop itself is not necessarily a problem point for racial profiling but it certainly can be if the race of the person being stopped alone is the main reason (or even just one of them) for a stop (Pickerill, and Mosher, and Pratt).
Some studies have gone to the trouble of looking for disparate impact in police stops. This involves looking at all of the stops, searches and other activities of a police officer or team of officers over a certain amount of team. It is assessed whether racial minorities or other factors are seemingly artificially driving who is stopped, who is searched, who is arrested and why. However, even civil libertarians who are obviously very sensitive to the government or any agent of the government acting unseemly in the enforcement of the law concede that such "hit" rates being disproportionate for a certain race does not mean that anything improper is going on, in and of itself (Pickerill, and Mosher, and Pratt).
For example, if a city has a high amount of minorities, a high amount of crime or a combination of the two, that can sway the statistics in a way that would stand out like a sore thumb as compared to many to most other areas. Also, cops are usually much more present and active in areas that are high crime and that have more violent crimes in general and these areas often tend to be much more minority-laden because race and poverty, which is seen by many as a driver of crime, often intersect in the same general areas a lot and these are the areas that cops tend to be present at the most (Pickerill, and Mosher, and Pratt).
Another dimension that should be looked at is that not all searches exhibit the same amount of discretion by officers. Things that tend to very include the involvement of a K-9 officer, search incident to a legitimate arrest, a warrant previously issued with little to no focus on race and whether or not the person in the car or house consents to a search at the request of an officer. For example, if no consent is given in the latter example and the author does not have clear probable cause to go ahead and do the search, they will generally not do so because it would quite possibly not stand up to rules of evidence when the case (if any) is later tried in court (Pickerill, and Mosher, and Pratt).
While it may seem tawdry to some, there are some people that openly and unapologetically suggest that racial profiling is absolutely justified and acceptable in some instances. They argue that since these tactics lead to more arrests, this is why they are acceptable. While this is seen as very controversial in many to most instances, one major dimension in which this argument crops up and is very often not shouted down nearly as loudly is when one is speaking of terrorism. While there are outliers, many to most terrorists are Arab Muslim males from 18 to 34 years old. As such, many people see no problem in singling out people in this demographic because they are far and away the most likely to be offenders as far as terrorism goes. As true as that might be, many hold that this is still wrong because innocents are going to be prejudged (Ryberg).
One major downside, and there are many, to racially profiling a minority is that the majority will be more emboldened to offend or, at the very least, will be allowed to act with a lot more impunity due to the fact that policing efforts are more or entirely focused on another group. In other words, just because a police officer takes initial interest in an SUV going down the road and then breaks off from pursuing that person as soon as it's discovered that the driver is white and not a minority does not mean that the white driver of the SUV was not a criminal. If there is probable cause for that white person to be pulled over, they should be pulled over. The race of the person should have little to do with the decision being made to stop and/or search or not (Ryberg)
One major dichotomy that a lot of scholars do not touch on or care to admit is the fairly obvious and unflinching animosity of minorities to cops when they are pulled over even if probable cause truly exists and/or it's obvious that a crime is really going on. This dynamic blurs the lines to many between racial profiling and people throwing out that card when that is not really going on. A generic example would be a white cop who pulls over a black person for a car stop. The black person could say that they were only stopped because they are black but the white cop could retort that the black man is only saying that because the officer is white. At the end of the day, that back and forth matters not. Either the cop had a legitimate reason to pull over the black man or he did not. If he did pull over the black man because he is black (in whole…