Racial Profiling: Definition
“Racial Profiling” refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin. Criminal profiling, generally, as practiced by police, is the reliance on a group of characteristics they believe to be associated with crime.
A law enforcement agent includes a person acting in a policing capacity for public or private purposes. Security guards at department stores, airport security agents, police officers, immigration officers, and/or, more recently, airline pilots who have ordered passengers to disembark from flights because the passengers’ ethnicity aroused the pilots’ suspicions, all make up the category of “law enforcement.” Members of each of these occupations have been accused of racial profiling.
Any definition of racial profiling must include, in addition to racially or ethnically discriminatory acts, discriminatory omissions on the part of law enforcement as well.
This includes incidents where police have been the practitioners of racist acts or have turned a blind eye to the criminally racist acts of others throughout history. During the eras of lynching in the South in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s, southern sheriffs sat idly by while individuals and institutions – like the Ku Klux Klan – terrorized African Americans. At times, the sheriffs would even release black suspects to the lynch mobs. Recently, an African American man in Maryland was attacked and subjected to property damage after moving into a white community. Local police failed to respond to his repeated complaints until they arrested him for shooting his gun into the air, trying to disperse a hostile mob outside his home.
I Want to Live is focused exclusively on relationships between law enforcement and young men of color.