Tuesday, June 27, 2006

amish drug rings or why profiling is really stupid

This recent mess in Miami (where many of the news reports jumped to the false conclusion that the Seas of David were Muslim) reminds me of some of the dangers of profiling. The problem is, any time you single out one group and treat them with greater suspicion, then logically it means putting everyone else under less scrutiny. And when some of those people realize how much they can get away with, they will often take advantage of it.

For example, when I was in high school I had the sense that for some of my white classmates, shoplifting was almost a "rite of passage". When they went to the stores, no one was paying particular attention to them, and they could nab things with a certain amount of confidence and impunity. After all, why would anyone suspect a fifteen-year old white kid?

I thought I'd share with you my two "favorite" examples of how this logical flipside of profiling can lead to some rather spectacular misdeeds.

The first is an Amish drug ring. Yes, you heard me correctly. An Amish drug ring. Apparently from 1992 to 1997, two Amish youths had entered into an arrangement with a local motorcycle gang and sold $100,000 worth in cocaine to youths in the Philadelphia area. This was possible, precisely because the police would generally ignore the Amish. After all what could they be up to in their buggies and hats?

The second example happened after 9/11. Everywhere in the U.S. , Middle Easterners/Muslims were obviously being singled out as a threat. Security in many public places was elevated and racial profiling was becoming more blatant. The amazing thing is that in this atmosphere of heightened attention to certain ethnic groups, where people can't even bring cigarette lighters or nail clippers onto airplanes, a fifteen-year old white kid still manages to fly a plane into a building!

If we really want to be safe and secure, it means (among other things) looking objectively at the world and not taking for granted that certain demographic groups are innocent and harmless while other groups are scary and threatening. We have to be willing to look objectively at the world with fresh eyes instead of taking the prejudiced (and intellectually lazy) route of merely rounding up the "usual suspects".


arafat said...

Right on target! Thanks for the post. I still have trouble convincing many friends why profiling is just ineffective and a waste of critical resources.

sondjata said...

excellent. Profiling is plain simple lazy policing.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

I'm glad you like.