This paper objects Boonin’s argument that racial profiling can be rational because it affirms the consequent. In the last two chapters of his book Should Race Matter?: Unusual Answers to the Unusual Questions Boonin discusses the controversial topic of racial profiling. The main question Boonin examines is whether racial profiling is rational and morally upright. He concludes that racial profiling is both rational and morally upright. Boonin uses a two-step argument to prove the rationality of racial profiling. The first argument is that people belonging to certain races in the U.S are more likely to be involved in certain types of crimes compared to members of other races.
According to Boonin, the above claim is supported by several studies and statistical evidence. For example, Boonin cites statistics compiled by the FBI that shows that black Americans constitutes about 13 percent of the general population, but they are responsible for 27.9 percent of the arrests made by law enforcement agencies. Moreover, black Americans account for 36.8 percent of all arrests made in relation to weapon violations, and 34.5 percent of arrests made in connection to drug violations. On the same note, Boonin states that it is generally agreed that whites are more likely to commit serial murders compared to other races.
Racial profiling is a fallacy because it is based on stereotypes that are beliefs associated with traits found in certain racial groups, for instance, Arabs, blacks, Jews, and Latinos. Stereotypes are never accurate because they emanate from distortions, and even when they are accurate like in the argument made by Boon, they are still based on a logical error, that is, affirming the consequent. For instance, it is known that all pregnant people are women, and we can therefore conclude that a pregnant individual is therefore a woman. However, we will be affirming the consequent if we conclude that an individual who is a woman is pregnant.
Similarly, if statistics published by law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system suggest that people who commit certain offenses are likely to be black, we will be affirming the consequent if we conclude that blacks are more likely to be criminals. In reality, only a small percentage of black people are criminals. People who rationalize racial profiling like Boon commit this error. This explains the numerous cases of law-abiding blacks including politicians, celebrities, and even police officers who are off duty being stopped by law enforcement agencies because of their race.
Racial profiling is not only irrational and immoral; it violates the Fourth Amendment that prohibits subjecting citizens to unreasonable searches and seizures in the absence of a probable cause. Racial profiling is immoral because it is likely to make a section of the society to feel stigmatized because of government prosecution.
The irrationality of racial profiling is also evident in cases where people who did not fit the profile committing crimes attributed to a certain race. For example, in 1986, a 32-year-old hotel cleaner from Dublin, Ireland by the name Murphy, carried a bomb in her bag on her way to Tel Aviv to marry her Israeli lover. The suspect was also six months pregnant. Another example is the case of Kozo Okamoto in 1972. Okamoto did not fit the racial profile of a terrorist because he was Japanese, but on arrival to Tel Aviv, Okamoto and two other Japanese travelers fished out guns from their bags and shot passengers on the arrival terminal killing more than twenty-four people and injuring almost 80 others.
The racial diversity of the perpetrators of acts of terror has also been observed in the U.S. For example, the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, the man who bombed an abortion clinic, Eric Rudolph, and Richard Reid, a British-Jamaican who tried to crash an American airline jet using his shoe. This is an indication that racial profiling is an irrational and unconstitutional approach for curbing crime, and it is counterproductive. Other factors may serve as accurate indicators of the likelihood of an individual committing a crime and not the race/ethnicity of an individual. In addition, when law enforcement agencies concentrate the limited resources on a specific race, and they ignore other racial groups and the criminals belonging to these groups, it means that criminals belonging to non-targeted groups may commit more crimes because they know that their chances of being arrested are lower.
For example, after the Oklahoma bombings, authorities concentrated their investigation on two Arab American men who turned out to be innocent. The only lead law enforcement agencies were following is that the two men had been seen near the building shortly before the explosion. This is another evidence that racial profiling is irrational and ineffective tool of fighting or deterring crime. The nationality or ethnicity in itself is not an accurate indicator of suspicion necessary to arrest an individual and falls short of the cretirion for probable cause. Other approaches such as searching for suspicious behavior or conducting random security checks are effective in deterring crime.
Racial profiling is irrational because it is based on the presumption that someone is guilty by association. This violates the right of presumption of innocence until proven guilty that is guaranteed in the American judicial system. Furthermore, experts have observed that when law enforcement agencies employ racial profiling, the accuracy of apprehending criminals is significantly lowered. In extreme situations, racial profiling has led to accidental deaths, for example, an innocent Brazilian man was shot dead by the police after the London bombings.
Racial profiling also has the potential of creating tension between law enforcement agencies and the targeted communities. For instance, in the recent past, there have been cases of conflicts and distrust between black communities and law enforcement agencies in the U.S. The key contributing factor is racial profiling whereby black communities have complained that the police are unfairly targeting them. In worst instances, members of the black community have retaliated against racial profiling by fatally shooting law enforcement officers. A study that examined 175, 000 records of citizens that were stopped and frisked in New York found that African Americans made up 25 percent of the city’s population, but they constituted 50 percent of people stopped by the police. Whites only constituted 13 percent, and they made up 43 percent of the population.
From the discussion and evidence presented in the paper, it can be concluded that racial profiling is irrational because it affirms the consequent. Racial profiling only serves to reinforce the stereotypes that the approach is based on. When law enforcement agencies focus on a certain group of people when fighting crime, then they are more likely to arrest more members from that group, and this reinforces the perception that members of that group are criminals or likely to commit certain crimes as argued by Boonin. At the same time, law enforcement officers ignore members of groups they perceive as less likely to commit crime, and this creates the perception that they are less criminal. In reality, such practices may make the ignored group to act with impunity and commit more crimes compared to their targeted counterparts.