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Racial Profiling and Violation of Civil Rights

In a multicultural and multi-racial society like that of the United States (US), stereotypes are bound to arise. Such generalizations are primarily directed towards minority groups, such as gays and blacks. In this paper, the author provides an analysis of such stereotypes about the issue of racial profiling by police officers and the higher criminal justice system. Barlow and Barlow (2002) provide a critical review of this form of stereotyping in contemporary societies.

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According to Barlow and Barlow (2002), racial profiling has, for a long time, remained a pertinent issue in the American criminal justice system. The review made in this paper seeks to determine how this practice affects individual human rights in society. A critical analysis of this scenario reveals that racial profiling threatens the civil liberties accorded to citizens by the constitution.

The author of this paper provides the reader with a brief background on the subject of racial profiling. After that, a tentative solution to the problem is proposed. Jesper (2011) points out that this practice is mostly associated with the operations of the criminal justice system. To this end, this author examines such issues as crime scene investigation, security, and incarceration.

The problems are reviewed about racial profiling. To achieve this objective, various theories revolving around the subject with regards to the criminal justice system are advanced. Also, several landmark rulings touching on this practice are analyzed.

There is a need for social equality and fairness in society. The American criminal justice system is structured around this belief. In light of this, various social factors, such as poverty and religion, are analyzed in this paper (Weitzer & Tuch, 2006).

Centralized agencies in the American criminal justice system, such as the Department of Homeland Security, play a critical role in safeguarding human rights in the country. The operations of such departments affect policing that is based on racial profiling. The author of this paper concludes by recommending two careers that can help in addressing the issue of racial profiling in the larger American society.

Racial Profiling in America


Barlow and Barlow (2002) provide a working definition of the term ‘racial profiling.’ According to them, this practice can be defined as discriminative perceptions of persons in a society based on certain stereotypes. When it comes to policing, racial profiling is regarded as an action against a suspect. Such actions are based or informed by the suspect’s racial or ethnic background.

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The stereotypes formed around a particular race make the police conclude that a member of that group is likely to commit a particular crime. In most cases, racial discrimination arises when a law enforcement agent disregards the behavior of the person or the information given to them by other individuals. Such officers are subjective and judge the suspect based on their socio-cultural background.

In the United States of America, racial profiling by the police is carried out against some select minority groups. They include, among others, African Americans, the Hispanic community, East Asians, Arabs, and Muslims (Barlow & Barlow, 2002). There are various stereotypes formed against African Americans by the police and the broader community.

For example, they are believed to be mostly associated with criminal activities like the use and sale of narcotics, as well as involvement in armed violence. As for the Hispanic community living in America, they are commonly associated with immigration-related offenses. According to Jesper (2011), the Arabs and the Muslims are usually regarded as terrorists. Such opinions were formed after the September 11th attack on American soil.

Instances of Racial Profiling in the US

Barlow and Barlow (2002) carried out a study to determine the validity of the argument that police officers are aware of racial profiling and related practices. The participants in the study were mostly African American police officers. The study sought to determine whether or not, by their race, they were racially profiled in suspicion of their participation in criminal activities.

The study revealed that in most cases, the participants were suspected of a crime owing to their racial background. The research further determined that regardless of the laid down procedures informing the conduct of law enforcement police officers, most of them relied on racial profiles to identify the suspects associated with a given crime.

Traffic offenses are examples of instances where police officers disregard the conduct of the individual. Instead, the officers rely on a profile they have created based on the suspect’s racial background (Seth & Novak, 2012). Simmons (2002) conducted a study in this field to determine the probable reasons behind such stereotypes.

Based on the findings made, Simmons (2002) argues that people of color are more likely to be stopped by traffic officers compared to whites. The researcher found that law enforcement officers have formed a hypothesis suggesting that the driving patterns of individuals vary depending on their race. Such assumptions are unfounded as they lack empirical evidence to support them.

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The assumptions made in the study by Seth and Novak (2012) suggest that the colored race is the minority group that is discriminated against. The findings revealed that African American drivers were less likely to wear seatbelts while driving compared to other road users.

What this means is that if a rule criminalizing the practice of driving without safety belts is enforced, many black people would be arrested. Police officers will treat individuals from this group suspiciously. Such instances of biased traffic rules would also exist in places where there are many police officers. In such situations, more black people will likely be stopped compared to whites (Seth & Novak, 2012).

The findings in the two studies cited above clearly illustrate that there are biases in the American law enforcement agencies (Seth & Novak, 2012; Simmons, 2012). It is essential to address these issues in a bid to assure people that their civil liberties are not at risk of being violated. One way to solve the problem is by acknowledging the fact that stereotypes are part and parcel of American society.

As such, due process should be followed whenever there is a need to respond to criminal activities. Racial profiling is known to thrive when there are loopholes in laws. Such weaknesses mean that the provisions of the fourth amendment are not observed by the law enforcement agencies.

Proposed Solutions


Law enforcement agencies are institutions created by the constitution (Simmons, 2012). Based on this, it is noted that the first avenue through which the problem of racial profiling can be addressed involves passing legislation touching on the subject. In America, this practice is evident at both federal and state levels of the government.

According to Rennauer (2012), judicial requirements to satisfy the rising number of racial profiling complaints from minorities have proved difficult to sustain. As a result, the legislation option proves to be reasonable since legal structures are often regarded highly by law enforcement agencies. Police officers are trained to obey the laws of the land.

In the past, attempts have been made to pass legislation to address the problem of racial profiling. According to Simmons (2012), some lawmakers have shown the desire to pass laws to resolve this issue. A case in point is the formulation of the End Racial Profiling Act of 2001 (Simmons, 2012).

The act is yet to be passed into law. However, the contents of the bill seek to eliminate all forms of racial profiling in state and federal law enforcement agencies. Such a move would go a long way in promoting social justice in the community. The legislation calls on all stakeholders to come together in a bid to promote fairness in the criminal justice system.

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Disciplinary Measures

In most cases, racial profiling is a traditional practice. Seth and Novak (2012) argue that most law enforcement agencies have policies and practices that make racial profiling a norm. For instance, a local police officer based in the southern Border States will most likely stop a Hispanic driver and ask for documentation. The region is familiar with illegal immigrants. However, it is unfair to stop a citizen who has not committed a crime and ask for identification.

Law enforcement agencies should come up with internal disciplinary measures that prohibit officers from institutionalizing the vice. The disciplinary actions should be taken after establishing a procedure for arresting suspects. According to Rennauer (2012), racial profiling should be considered as police misconduct. There should be an internal mechanism in the police agencies where citizens who feel aggrieved should go and file complaints. Disciplinary action is then taken based on the said reports.

Operations of the Criminal Justice System


Social vices should be minimized for peace and stability to prevail in society. To this end, a criminal justice system is an establishment put in place to ensure that there is order in the community. The system is created in such a way that there are mechanisms in place to minimize and prevent the occurrence of crime (Sunghoon & Robinson, 2009).

If crime and offenses are committed, arrangements are put in place to rectify the same. The American criminal justice system has a role to play in curbing the racial profiling problem. The analysis provided in the following section explains why this is important.

Crime Scene Investigation Techniques

The United States of America prides itself as the country with one of the most efficient policing outfits in the world. However, the element of racial profiling still finds its place in such practices as a criminal investigation. In their book, Fisher (2001) mentions that forensic science is an effective way of gathering evidence. The author adds that evidence is the easiest way to solve a crime. As such, techniques for investigating the scene of a crime are essential factors in fighting crime.

An example is a rape case where the victim has been brutally assaulted. According to Fisher (2001), the first officer on the crime scene usually has a vital role to play in solving it. Also, the evidence presented before a court will play a crucial role in solving the crime.

As such, if the police officer on the scene relies on ethnic profiling to determine the liabilities of the suspect, they will likely point to an African American. They might proceed to parade suspects who are purely black without taking into account the forensic evidence presented by the victim.

From the recommendations made in this report, such a move would be seen as misconduct on the part of the officer. The argument is supported by the idea that the Federal Government proposes the use of forensic science to sift through evidence (Fisher, 2001). To this end, parading suspects without first carrying out a forensic analysis of the perpetrator is prejudicial. Racial profiling should be prohibited when it comes to investigations.

Corrective Measures

When a suspect is held in police custody after an arrest, they are required to be presented before a court of law to have their case heard. In the American judicial system, one is presumed to be innocent until they are proved guilty (Jesper, 2011). When the case is criminal, the burden of proof lies with the prosecutor. The prosecutor is required to illustrate, using undeniable evidence, that the suspect is guilty of the crimes.

The jury is charged with the responsibility of deciding on the guilt or innocence of the suspect. As such, both parties in a criminal case must select a jury that does not exhibit racial biases. For instances, if the jury is made up of white people only, there is a high chance that it will be prejudiced against a black suspect. The reverse is also true. Rennauer (2012) suggests that such kind of racial profiling in a court of law can land an innocent person in jail. At the same time, a suspect might be guilty but set free by a biased jury.

Racial profiling tends to affect the correctional aspects of the criminal justice system. To this end, the court may be biased in terms of sentencing. According to Simmons (2012), there are several cases where white judges were found to have given black people harsh jail terms. In extreme cases, judges are seen to offer black convicts life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

The same is usually in comparison to white convicts who are given a lesser jail term for a crime of a similar magnitude. Instances of such nature ought to be regarded as misconduct on the part of judicial officers. Punitive measures about this would help to end the vice.


According to Simmons (2012), it is the responsibility of every government to provide its citizens with security. Consequently, law enforcement agencies are entitled to provide security to all neighborhoods without bias. However, racial profiling suggesting that black people are violent has resulted in the neglect of their areas.

However, Simmons (2012) points out that there are white neighborhoods where patrols are in abundance. Such kind of prejudices ruins the trusts that citizens have in the criminal justice systems. The issue calls for legislation (as proposed in this paper) to ensure that all neighborhoods get the sufficient ration of police to citizen cover.

Theories and Landmark Rulings on Racial Profiling

Sociological Theories

Racial profiling is a social phenomenon. According to Feder (2012), the practice is promoted by disparities brought about by specific societal issues. One typical example is religion. A stereotype is often created to the effect that all Muslims originate from the Arabic world.

Consequently, the terrorist label is attached to these people due to their Islamic faith. Such forms of generalizations are made even though there are Muslims of other nationalities. Social theory can be used positively to address racial profiling. A further illustration of this theory is made clear when one considers certain litigations touching on the subject.

Landmark Rulings

In the United States of America, there are certain jurisdictions where racial profiling is a common phenomenon. The institutionalization of the process appears to be justified by specific landmark rulings. One such case is the one between the US and Armstrong in 1996. The matter was heard by the Supreme Court. As such, the decisions made were binding.

The ruling is considered a landmark because it legitimized racial profiling by contradicting an existing precedent that suggested people of all races had the potential to commit a crime regardless of its nature.

Both cases are significant in addressing the issue of racial profiling and its legal ‘correctness.’ The problem is quite emotive to the extent that former president George Bush had to make a statement in Congress. The president pointed out that racial profiling is carried out in bad faith (Weitzer & Tuch, 2006). The two landmark cases indicate the importance of addressing the issue of racial discrimination in society.

The Fourth Amendment

According to Feder (2012), the fourth amendment guarantees all citizens protection from such issues as unreasonable searches. However, the law has specific provisions that allow a law enforcement officer to stop an individual when they are suspicious of their character. Such an occurrence took place during a Supreme Court trial between Terry and the State of Ohio in 1968 (Feder, 2012).

The law outlines the provisions under which an officer can stop a suspicious-looking citizen. The constitution issues a disclaimer to this effect. While citing the fourth amendment, Feder (2012) points out that such suspicions must be arrived at based on presentable facts as opposed to personal attitudes.

Another instance is United States v. Brignoni-Ponce case (Feder, 2012). In this matter, the race was regarded as a significant factor informing suspicions against the suspect. The suspect was Hispanic.

Based on this fact, the officer tried to argue that the man was an immigrant. The stated reasons were rejected by the court and termed as unconstitutional based on the fourth amendment. According to Feder (2012), the court pointed out that the decision to stop a motorist should be based on observable phenomena like infractions. It should not be made based on their race.

From the two cases mentioned above, it is clear that racial profiling is a violation of the constitution. The fourth amendment is specific that one should not be searched without a valid reason. Feder (2012) indicates the invalidity of race as grounds for suspicion. As such, racial profiling should be considered unconstitutional.

United States v. Christopher Armstrong

In the US v. Armstrong case, the Federal Government was the plaintiff. Armstrong and others were the defendants (Cornell University Law School, n.d.). The argument presented before the court revolved around the constitutionality of ethnic profiling. The defendants based their arguments on the fourth amendment.

They argued that their constitutional rights were violated. Their contentions revolved around the notion that crimes of any nature can be committed by persons of all races. However, the accused were unable to illustrate a precedent where persons of a different race committed a similar crime and found not guilty.

The landmark ruling described above suggests that race can be used as a reason to suspect that an individual has committed certain crimes. The institutionalization of racial profiling mentioned earlier is hinged on this court ruling. However, Feder (2012) points out that the verdict was not a judicial review. The case was an appeal against a ruling by a lower court that found the defendants guilty based on the evidence presented. As a result, racial profiling should not be legitimized based on this court ruling.

Social Equality and the Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system is a creation of the government (Weitzer & Tuch, 2006). As such, it is prudent to assume that the functioning of the entire order will benefit the whole citizenry of the country.

The same dictates that there should be fairness in the discharge of justice regardless of the social, political, cultural, and economic diversities in a society. Jesper (2011) points out that most forms of injustices arise due to differences in race, religion, and economic statuses. Diversity should be appreciated and respected. However, there should be fairness in the administration of justice.

As already indicated, most Muslims and Arabs are wrongly regarded as terrorists. According to Jesper (2011), the attack that rocked America in 2001 changed the way law enforcement agencies handle crime. The latent prejudices against people from the Middle East suddenly erupted.

The phenomenon is so familiar to the extent that most films based on the subject use Islam and Arabs to advance their message. Racial profiling of Arabs is widespread in airports. Weitzer and Tuch (2006) point out that white people spend less time going through security checks compared to people from the Middle East.

Racial profiling is not limited to black Americans. It affects many people in today’s American society. According to Jesper (2011), the officers charged with the responsibility of enforcing the espionage law target people from East Asia countries, such as China. Such people are regarded as potential spies. One would argue that the same is caused by the emerging economic rivalry between the US and China. China, in its bid to grow economically, has on occasions been accused by the United States of corporate espionage.

The same treatment is meted out on people from Russia. Beginning from the cold war era, the two countries (the USA and China) have engaged in espionage incursions in a bid to gain supremacy. It is common to find intelligence gathering agencies using a lot of resources to observe the behavior of Americans of Chinese or Russian descent.

In terms of economic capabilities, there are cases of bias, especially when it comes to the provision of security to poor neighborhoods. Gabbidon, Higgins, and Wilder-Bonner (2013) illustrate the high rates of crime in the projects as opposed to those in the affluent areas. The three argue that there are less policing measures in the former in comparison to the latter.

The argument is based on the fact that most African Americans reside in poor neighborhoods. To this end, the violence associated with the community makes law enforcement agencies avoid patrols in the area. Consequently, the rate of crime is bound to rise.

The instances of bias illustrated above are an indicator of the inequality found in America’s criminal justice system. Feder (2012) insists that the administration of justice should be carried out reasonably, regardless of one’s background. However, racial profiling, in terms of religion and economic status suggests that the country’s criminal justice system needs to be improved. The US constitution presupposes that all citizens are equal and are entitled to similar benefits from the institutions created by law.

The criminal justice system is expected to ensure that these qualities are realized by all citizens. Simmons (2012) argues that when citizens are mistreated by the institutions, they have the right to change the government. It will be a shame if the United States of America fails to conform to the provisions of fundamental justice as presupposed in the constitution. It is incumbent upon such institutions to actualize the same.

Centralization of Criminal Justice Agencies

The criminal justice system is an institution that encompasses a wide array of agencies (Wong, 2006). Such agencies are essential in ensuring justice is provided to the citizens freely and fairly. They include the police, courts, correctional facilities, and intelligence agencies.

The institutions within the system are expected to work in harmony to meet their objectives. In carrying out their respective mandates, Feder (2012) argues that these institutions should enhance fairness at all times. However, the issue of racial profiling is compounded by the centralization of these agencies. In the United States of America, most intelligence organizations operated from a central location. It is essential to analyze the effects of such a structure on racial profiling.

The Patriot Act

Immediately after the September 11th attack on American soil, there was a sudden urge to introduce some counter-measures. According to Wong (2006), the Patriot Act was one such measure. The piece of legislation was unanimously passed in Congress on 24th of October, 2001. Some of the provisions of this law involve the fact that immigrants would face indefinite detention if they are suspected of engaging in terrorist activities.

The law further stipulates that law enforcement agencies have the right to enter one’s premises regardless of whether consent was sought or not (Wong, 2006). The legislation is formulated in such a way that it allows federal officers to carry out searches of individual records. The said searches are to be conducted after the presentation of letters indicating that the matter is vital to national security.

The enforcement of this law is usually carried out by officers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Under such circumstances, the FBI carries out their investigations on an individual. However, it is essential to mention that information is usually gathered when the department of homeland security suspects an individual.

The said department is mandated to monitor all threats to national security, whether they are foreign or domestic. The exciting part about this centralized intelligence method is that no justification is given in the determination of the ‘suspiciousness’ of an individual — the same acts as a catalyst for racial profiling.

Careers that Address Racial Profiling

It is vital to curb racial profiling in the broader spectrum of the criminal justice system. Jesper (2011) suggests that the best way towards combating the problem involves encouraging insiders to come up with solutions. The police and the judiciary are the most guilty when it comes to such cases. As such, two careers should be accorded attention in addressing the profiling issue. A lawyer and the director of internal affairs are well suited to help solve the problem.

There are various reasons why the two career paths are proposed. For example, the two are seen as blending perfectly in a bid to promote a harmonious working relationship between all the agencies in the criminal justice system (Simmons, 2012). The two careers are selected as a result of their direct association with the interpretation of the constitution and its enforceability.


The US constitution has provisions that make lawyers officers of the court (Weitzer & Tuch, 2006). Once inducted into the bar, a lawyer can prosecute on several legal matters, including lawsuits.

Complaints touching on racial profiling, which are common among minority groups like the ones mentioned in this paper, can be addressed by these professionals. As such, it is advisable to have a human rights lawyer act on behalf of such defendants. By fully understanding the fourth amendment, such lawyers are in a position to demonstrate that crime is not specific to race.

In the matter of US v Armstrong, the defendants lost their case since they could not come up with proof to support the argument of crime being non-race specific (Cornell University Law School, n.d.). A lawyer, on the other hand, can access a judicial review from the US Supreme Court to seek an interpretation of the matter.

A lawyer can argue against racial profiling while asserting the supremacy of the fourth amendment. The practitioner would be in a position to offer counsel on the subject when an opinion for legislation is sought. Simmons (2012) points out that law against racial profiling requires sound legal advice. The same can be provided by a lawyer.

Internal Affairs

It is noted that disciplinary action is necessary to prevent a culture of racial profiling on the part of the police. According to Jesper (2011), the police should boost the confidence of the citizens by enhancing their oversight procedures.

Feder (2012) points out to the internal affairs department of the police. An outsider with knowledge on existing challenges regarding ethnic profiling can seek employment in the police department, specifically in the internal affairs department. A career of that sort puts one in a position to formulate policies that prohibit racial profiling. Stereotypes should not be justified based on one being a police officer.

While working in the department of internal affairs, one can enforce strict disciplinary measures against officers who disregard due process and arrest victims based on intuitions. The importance of constitutionalism should be emphasized in the police department (Feder, 2012). As such, officers should be made to understand that racial profiling is a violation of police regulations and the constitution. Strict punitive measures like termination of employment can be considered.

The two careers advanced in this section are essential in supporting the proposed resolutions to racial profiling. According to Simmons (2012), the criminal justice system should work in harmony to ensure that racial profiling is eliminated. A litigant can work together with the internal affairs department to ensure that the fourth amendment is upheld. The law benefits everyone, regardless of their profession. It is crucial to resolve the issue of racial profiling to benefit the whole society.


Racial profiling is inconsistent with the fourth amendment of the United States Constitution. According to Feder (2012), the practice is deemed to be against the constitution. By perpetrating unconstitutionality, racial profiling poses a threat to the civil liberties of American citizens. It is essential for all stakeholders to come up with ways to resolve this problem. The fourth amendment is a civil right for every citizen of the United States of America. Measures should be put in place to prevent such violations.

There is a need for legislation that would make it clear that racial profiling is unconstitutional (Feder, 2012). Such legislation would strengthen the existing provisions of the fourth amendment. However, the new laws should be alive to the fact that times have changed since the enactment of the said amendment.

As such, it is in the interest of the citizens to ensure that national security is not threatened. It is also essential to come with a clear structure of how suspects should be treated. Stringent measures should be enacted to discourage policing through racial profiling. The same will be enforced, as recommended in this report, by an internal affairs department within the police.


Barlow, D., & Barlow, M. (2002). Racial profiling: A survey of African American police officers. Criminology and Penology, 5(3), 334-358.

Cornell University Law School. Supreme Court of the United States: No 95-157. Web.

Feder. J. (2012). Racial profiling: Legal and constitutional issues. Washington D.C.: Congressional Research Service.

Fisher, B. (2001). Techniques of crime scene investigation. New York: CRC Press.

Gabbidon, S., Higgins, G., & Wilder-Bonner, K. (2013). Black supporters of racial profiling: A demographic profile. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 24, 422-440.

Jesper, R. (2011). Racial profiling and criminal justice. Journal of Ethics, 15(1/2), 79-88.

Rennauer, B. (2012). Neighborhood variation in police stops and searches: A test of consensus and conflict perspectives. Police Quarterly, 15, 219-240.

Seth, F., & Novak, K. (2012). The decision to search: Is race or ethnicity important?. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 28, 146-165.

Simmons, C. (2012). Beginning to end racial profiling: Definitive solutions to an elusive problem. Washington & Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, 18(1), 25-56.

Sunghoon, R., & Robinson, M. (2009). A geographic approach to racial profiling: The microanalysis and macroanalysis of racial disparity in traffic stops. Police Quarterly, 12, 137-169.

Weitzer, R., & Tuch, S. (2006). Race and policing in America: Conflict and reform. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wong, K. (2006). The making of the USA Patriot Act I: Legislative process and dynamics. International Journal of the Sociology Law, 34(3), 179-219.

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