Does Racial Profiling Exist


In the contemporary US criminal justice system, there are a lot of controversial topical issues that have been drawing public attention and are widely studied by scholars and policymakers alike. However, the issue of racial profiling is probably among the most heatedly debated and controversial, as well as being of utmost significance. Racial profiling in the US criminal justice stands for singling out the representatives of some racial or ethnic minorities as potential criminals, thereby subjecting them to harsher investigation and closer scrutiny than those of the majority. This phenomenon is hardly new as it has existed in the USA for decades, if not centuries, yet recently the public has become highly interested in it because of the attempts to ensure the elimination of racial discrimination in society in all domains of public life.

Even though researchers are highly interested in racial profiling, there still exist many controversies relating to the issue. Concerns also arise when it comes to the real-life manifestation of the concept, i.e. the presence of racial profiling practices in daily life. The difficulty relating to a definitive decision on this issue is caused by the fact that no federal legislation has been adopted that would explicitly define what racial profiling is and governs the instances falling under the term. There have been several attempts to pass such legislation with the End Racial Profiling Act of 2010, being almost passed by the US Congress, yet since it was not ultimately passed, the disagreements surrounding the issue persist till nowadays. Thus, to study racial profiling, the present paper relies on several credible peer-reviewed journal articles by reputable researchers and scholars and strives to synthesize their findings comprehensively.

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Statement of the Problem

Nevertheless, there seems to be a disagreement about the very existence of racial profiling in the US criminal justice system. On the one hand, various media and public advocacy groups claim that racial profiling does exist and that it is an extremely topical problem that needs to be addressed urgently to uphold the rights and freedoms of all Americans. They also indicate that profiling of individuals based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin is contrary to the premises given in the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as against a range of other laws and regulations that guarantee equality and non-discrimination of all racial and ethnic groups in the country (Feder, 2012). On the other hand, some representatives of the criminal justice system and researchers doubt that there exists racial profiling in modern times and claim that racial minorities tend to be overrepresented in the criminal justice system because of the higher crime rate among these groups. Some of them indicate that all racial and ethnic groups get the same treatment in the criminal justice system based on the severity of the crime they have committed, while the police and other actors of the system are unbiased concerning race and ethnicity (Reiman, 2011). There is also another perspective on the issue under consideration, according to which racial profiling exists in the criminal justice system, yet it is not a detrimental phenomenon, but rather a means of effective and efficient policing, crime prevention, and crime fighting (Hackney & Glaser, 2013). Due to the existence of various views on racial profiling, it is necessary to conduct a comprehensive research-based study aimed at revealing whether the phenomenon exists in the current criminal justice system in the USA, as well as to determine its main features and policy implications.

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What is Racial Profiling

Before focusing on the above-mentioned research problem and trying to determine whether there exists such a phenomenon as racial profiling in the US criminal justice system, it seems relevant to define the concept. Just like with virtually any other aspect related to racial profiling, researchers have failed to come to a unanimous agreement on the definition of the term, and there are several definitions widely used. It should be noted that although most of these definitions are similar, they have somewhat different emphases and can be interpreted differently. A simple, yet succinct definition states that racial profiling may be understood as “the practice of targeting individuals for police or security detention based on their race or ethnicity in the belief that certain minority groups are more likely to engage in unlawful behavior” (Feder, 2012, p. 1). This definition has been used by the representative of the Congressional Research Service in a report on legal and constitutional issues relating to racial profiling prepared for Congress. This way, the definition may be regarded as valid and credible, as well as applicable for wider use since it manages to convey the essence of the concept under study.

However, there also exist some other definitions that are worth mentioning in more detail. It is necessary to emphasize that each organization and agency dealing with racial profiling in some way offers its definition. A textbook on the issue defines this practice with a particular focus on the race or ethnicity of the individuals which becomes the only and core reason for bringing them to the attention of law enforcement professionals (Schuck et al., 2012). This definition focuses on race or ethnicity as the only factor based on which the individuals become investigated or checked by law enforcement proposals. In turn, the Department of Justice offers its interpretation of racial profiling, defining it as any action undertaken by the representatives of the police or other law enforcement agencies that is based on their race, national origin, or ethnicity and labels the person targeted by such action as a potential criminal (Schuck et al., 2012). Hence, this definition does not claim race or ethnicity to be the only factors influencing the police’s decision even though it is determined to be among the major ones. The US Department of Justice explicitly prohibited the use of race, national origin, ethnicity, and other similar individual characteristics of people as the basis for their inclusion in the process of federal law enforcement (Schuck et al., 2012). The only exception to this prohibition concerns the instances when race, ethnicity, or national origin are included in the suspect’s description as his/her unique characteristics that can assist with finding the criminal and bringing him/her to justice.

Nevertheless, the above-mentioned prohibition has been provided in the form of the 2003 memorandum issued by the US Department of Justice, while there is still no law that would focus on racial profiling properly. In recent years, activists and legislators have attempted to develop and pass such legislation several times, but all the efforts have failed. Proponents of the implementation of such endeavor came the closest to success in 2010 when Congress decided whether to pass the piece of federal legislation called the End Racial Profiling Act (Schuck et al., 2012). If this legislation were passed, there would exist a single unanimously agreed definition of the concept under consideration that would eliminate all the controversies relating to the question of racial profiling's existence and definition. Hence, the End Racial Profiling Act of 2010, which was not passed, defined the concept as follows:

the practice of a law enforcement agent or agency relying, to any degree, on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion in selecting which individual to subject to routine or spontaneous investigatory activities or in deciding upon the scope and substance of law enforcement activity following the initial investigatory procedure, except when there is trustworthy information, relevant to the locality and timeframe, that links a person of a particular race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion to an identified criminal incident or scheme (Schuck et al., 2012, p. 496).

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The above definition is so far the most comprehensive since it provides a list of reasons underlying attention to individuals from the representatives of law enforcement, as well as pointing out during what processes this attention may emerge. Moreover, it gives a description of an exception when race or other related identifying markers can be legally used to select people for law enforcement professionals’ attention. In turn, Thomsen (2011) understands profiling from the perspective of using existing statistical evidence to identify and apprehend criminals, thereby claiming that racial profiling is not only about the use of race or ethnicity. This way, the researcher points out that present racial profiling policing practices are usually based on previous real or assumed statistical evidence relating to race or ethnicity rather than on social prejudice only. This fact has become especially evident after the events of 9/11 when all Muslims have been subject to higher racial profiling rates as potential terrorists compared with other ethnic and racial groups. Besides, Thomsen (2011) emphasizes that the statistical evidence that profiling relies on is not always accurate, yet it is impossible to claim that racial profiling practices emerge with no evidence at all. Furthermore, the researcher distinguishes between proactive and reactive racial profiling with the former meaning the practices that are aimed at searching and apprehending criminals randomly, while the latter means the use of statistical generalizations to find a specific offender based on available descriptions and profiles created by behavioral criminologists (Thomsen, 2011). In turn, Barlow and Barlow (2002) have conducted an academic study, proving that representatives of the police acknowledge the existence of racial profiling, but most of them are representatives of ethnic and racial minorities and have been subject to the practice at least once in life.

There also exist many other definitions of the term, but they all are similar in terms of pointing out that race or ethnicity plays a key role in determining whether representatives of the criminal justice system would initiate some action against an individual. The present paper will further rely on the definition of racial profiling given by Feder (2012) since it seems to be quite simple, yet all-encompassing. Besides, it should be noted that since researchers, policymakers, legal professionals, and activists have been so concerned with providing an accurate definition of the concept of racial profiling, it becomes apparent that all of them do not doubt that the phenomenon does exist. Moreover, the very fact that the US Congress considered passing a piece of legislation aimed at eliminating racial profiling from the US criminal justice system serves as evidence of the phenomenon's existence. Still, opponents may claim that Congress failed to pass the act because of doubts about the presence of racial profiling as a detrimental phenomenon in the modern criminal justice system.

Legislative Basis

In a view of determining whether racial profiling exists within the US criminal justice system, it is necessary to discuss the phenomenon from a legal perspective and determine whether it has any legislative basis. Hence, as mentioned above, there exists no legislation that would specifically either ban or support racial profiling as a law enforcement practice in the country, and all attempts aimed at adopting legislation that would eliminate the phenomenon have failed because of the lack of support in the US Congress. In turn, when racial profiling emerges in court as an issue of debate or a lawsuit, the stakeholders should rely on the existing laws and constitutional provisions.

Thus, the two core constitutional provisions regulating the issue of racial profiling in the criminal justice system include the Fourth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment. According to the Fourth Amendment, all American citizens enjoy the right to feel secure at all times, thereby being protected against unreasonable and unwarranted seizures and searches (Legal Information Institute, n.d. a). This amendment has given rise to various controversies and debates in the recent past, yet it has been repeatedly upheld by the courts in the country, hence ensuring the protection of citizens’ privacy and sense of security. The only grounds on which police officers or other law enforcement agents can initiate a search or seizure of a person include a reasonable and articulate suspicion based on the court decision in Terry v. Ohio of 1968 (Feder, 2012). Nonetheless, the court also emphasized that the race or ethnicity of a person cannot serve as grounds for such suspicion and this decision has been upheld since United States v. Brignoni-Ponce in most cases (Feder, 2012). In the latter case, police officers stopped cars based on the only factor, which was the Mexican national origin of the driver, to check whether the driver was an illegal alien. The court ruled that this cause did not constitute the ground for a reasonable suspicion without the presence of other factors, such as suspicious behavior or identifying description of a perpetrator. However, in some instances, the court supported the racial profiling of suspects. For instance, in United States v. Martin-Fuerte, the court ruled that ethnicity and race served as sufficient grounds for stopping and checking individuals in the areas that had borders with Mexico as their Mexican origin could be seen as a reason for checking their documents (Feder, 2012). This way, the judicial system has varied in its support of the amendment in terms of its capability to protect individuals against racial profiling.

Another constitutional provision serving as the basis for the protection of individuals against racial profiling is the Fourteenth Amendment. According to this Amendment, all Americans should enjoy equal protection by the laws of the country (Legal Information Institute, n.d. b). This way, an individual who has become a victim of racial profiling on behalf of law enforcement officers can file a claim, arguing that his/her rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment have been violated. To prove that, the person has to argue that the officer acted based on racial considerations and that there were no other reasonable grounds to stop and check him/her. Although intuitively all parties involved may realize that this was the case, it is virtually impossible to prove that in court. Similarly, the victim may claim that he/she has been a victim of selective enforcement, which violates the equal protection clause (Feder, 2012). However, the victim still needs to prove that he/she has been subject to racial discrimination, which is complicated given that officers may report some other reasons for the detention of the victim, besides race. Racial considerations are rarely mentioned in the reports to avoid accusations of racial profiling and discrimination, which makes the application of the Fourteenth Amendment for the protection of the victims’ rights against racial discrimination an extremely difficult endeavor.

Since victims cannot prove the existence of racial discrimination because of the absence of explicitly discriminatory policies in law enforcement agencies and the overt racial motivations of officers, they may resort to using other pieces of evidence to prove victimization as a result of selective enforcement (Feder, 2012). To do that, the victim needs to prove that the practice to which he/she has been subjected is motivated by some discriminatory objectives and has had a discriminatory impact (Feder, 2012). The most obvious way to prove the latter is to show that the representatives of other races or ethnicities would not be subject to the same process or investigation in similar circumstances. Sometimes, claimants in racial profiling court cases resort to using statistical evidence, yet courts rarely accept such evidence as a reasonable ground for ruling that racial profiling did occur. Therefore, courts usually rule in favor of reimbursing the cost of being victimized to victims, yet do not explicitly write in their rulings that the case involved racial profiling on behalf of a law enforcement officer.

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From the legal perspective, proving that racial profiling is a real-life phenomenon and a practice currently and frequently employed by the law enforcement system has become even more complicated since the adoption of the US Patriot Act. Although the constitutionality of the act has been a point of much controversy and debate, it has been upheld intact and valid with a view to ensuring the national security of the USA. Under the US Patriot Act, various law enforcement agencies enjoy an extremely broad range of rights and capacities and do not need the previously used high standards of suspicion to use them (Pitt, 2011). Nowadays, officers can initiate surveillance in different forms, including searches, wiretapping, tracing, and other practices that infringe upon persons’ rights guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment. Nonetheless, law enforcement has a legal basis for practicing all those things, and some of these practices have closely been intertwined with racial profiling even though Section 102 of the US Patriot Act explicitly prohibits the discrimination of people based on their race, national origin, ethnicity, or religion, in particular mentioning South Asian Americans, Arab Americans, and Muslim Americans (Pitt, 2011). However, racial profiling targeting these groups of the population has occurred as evidenced by numerous media accounts of police officers stopping and searching people who seem to be Muslims. Furthermore, officers can always rely on Section 412 of the Act which allows them to withhold rights from an individual whom they consider to be a suspicious immigrant (Pitt, 2011). This way, this section allows for a wide range of powers relating to racial profiling of individuals, thereby negating other sections that are aimed at ensuring some protection of racial and religious minorities. Until the legislative branch adopts legislation that would specifically ban racial profiling and provide a detailed list of practices and activities that could and should be deemed as manifestations of the phenomenon, it will be possible to claim that it does not exist as a legal phenomenon. The main reason for that is the fact that courts do not explicitly recognize it and victims lack reliable mechanisms to prove that the practice to which they have been subjected is an instance of racial profiling, while law enforcement officers can always rely on the US Patriot Act and other legislative provisions granting them broad powers.

Statistics on Racial Profiling

A trustworthy method of proving that any phenomenon exists in the world is to provide statistics as evidence. Since racial profiling is a highly controversial practice that not all officers and policy-makers acknowledge to exist, there is no reliable and trustworthy source of statistics. Nonetheless, statistics derived from different sources may serve as proof that racial profiling exists in the US criminal justice system. Hence, Barlow and Barlow (2002) report the results of the public opinion poll relating to racial profiling. Even though these figures may look somewhat outdated, there have been revealed no more recent polls on the subject. Thus, 60% of all Americans aged above 18 claim that racial profiling exists and is a widespread practice in the US criminal justice system (Barlow & Barlow, 2002, p. 335). The belief in racial profiling prevalence varies statistically among Whites and African Americans with 56% of the former claiming that it exists and 76% of the latter believing that it is a common police practice (Barlow & Barlow, 2002, p. 335). At the time of the poll, not only ordinary people believed in the existence of racial profiling as evidenced by the above results, but also politicians, which is proved by the first address of President Bush to Congress with a call to eliminate the phenomenon in the USA.

Other statistics sources that can be used to prove the existence of racial profiling concern various stops and searches initiated by the police that disproportionately target representatives of racial and ethnic minorities. Thus, the Department of Justice reported that in 2011 the police stopped drivers in line with the following percentages: 13% of African Americans, 10% of Whites, and 10% of Hispanic Americans (Brooks et al., 2014, p. 9). All the drivers were subject to a traffic stop, but there were no statistical differences in street stops between the groups. Out of all the drivers, African Americans strongly believed that the reason for the stop was unjust and that the police behaved inappropriately during the subsequent interaction (Brooks et al., 2014). 3% of all stopped drivers were searched and the whites were the least searched group with 2% out of all drivers, while 6% of African Americans and 7% of Hispanic drivers were searched (Brooks et al., 2014, p. 9). None of the searched drivers believed that the police had any legitimate reason to do that. These statistics show that African Americans and Hispanic Americans are perceived as more suspicious than Whites by police officers, thereby implying racial profiling of these groups.

A vivid example of racial profiling has been provided by statistics relating to the stop-and-frisk policy, especially in New York where the police department publishes annual statistics that are freely available for analysis. According to the statistic, racial profiling has become a more prevalent police practice concerning this policy nowadays than it used to be in the late 1990s. The rate further tremendously grew from 2002 to 2011 when the incidences of stops and frisks initiated by police officers increased by 600% (Brooks et al., 2014, p. 11). This happened when Bloomberg became mayor and increased quotas for permissible stops and frisks to intensify the crime prevention activities of the police. For instance, in 2002 the police reported 97,296 stops, 82% of which did not result in the suspect’s arrest (Brooks et al., 2014, p. 11). In 2011, the number rose to 685,724, and 88% of these stops did not result in an arrest or any other further action (Brooks et al., 2014, p. 11). These figures would not prove the existence of racial profiling unless African Americans and Hispanic Americans were not disproportionately overrepresented among the stops. Hence, in 2011, 53% of all stops targeted African Americans, while 34% of all stops involved Hispanic Americans, while the Whites constituted the overall majority of the population in New York (Brooks et a., 2014, p. 11). The police targeted primarily young men of African American and Hispanic origin who amounted to 41.6% of all stops even though they constituted a mere 4.7% of the city population (Brooks et al., 2014, p. 11). This way, it becomes evident that the police were motivated by their perception of young men from ethnic and racial minorities as potential criminals even though they constituted the minority in terms of the overall population. The above statistics prove that racial profiling is an integral element of the stop-and-frisk policy that is implemented not only in New York but also all over the country. The same applies to drug crime statistics as the Whites represent 70%of all drug users, yet they amount to the minority of the apprehended criminals on such charges (Barlow & Barlow, 2002, p. 339). In turn, African Americans represent 12% of drug users, but they account for more than 35% of criminals charged with drug abuse crimes (Barlow & Barlow, 2002, p. 339). This is proof that racial profiling does exist in the US criminal justice system.

Police officers are among those who frequently deny the existence of racial profiling, which is why their insight into the issue becomes of utmost significance when discussing the question of the phenomenon's existence. The study by Barlow and Barlow (2002) has attempted to gain the police officer's perspective on the issue, specifically targeting African American officers as individuals who know how the system works and who might have been at the receiving end of racial profiling. Thus, two-thirds of the surveyed officers reported that they had been subject to racial profiling in life, while 43% of them said that it happened during the past five years (Barlow & Barlow, 2002, p. 350). One in every four African American officers surveyed had been targets of racial profiling within one year before the study, and three out of four male officers became victims of the practice in life (Barlow & Barlow, 2002, p. 350). Moreover, it has been revealed that African Americans with darker skin tones are the most frequent targets of the practice. This way, this study shows that the police officers whorepresentatives of racial and ethnic minorities acknowledge the existence of the problem of racial profiling and even become the victims of the practice just like ordinary citizens. Nonetheless, one in ten of the surveyed officers still consider racial profiling to be a useful law enforcement strategy and do not oppose its use even after being targeted by it, which raises the question of not whether racial profiling exists, but rather whether it is good or bad as a law enforcement practice.


Taking into account the above-presented literature review, it becomes obvious that racial profiling exists and may be considered as a topical issue in the contemporary criminal justice system of the USA. Although there exist many different definitions of the term under consideration, all researchers and agencies tend to agree that the concept stands for the process of targeting individuals by law enforcement representatives based on their race, national origin, or ethnicity. Recently, due to the adoption and large-scale implementation of the US Patriot Act, religious affiliation, in particular, the identification of the person as a Muslim based on some visual cues is also included in the group of actions labeled as racial profiling. Hence, since researchers and agencies alike tend to provide different definitions of the concept, it is logical to assume that they acknowledge its existence. This way, the existence of racial profiling in theory does not raise doubts.

In turn, the detection of the real-life existence of the phenomenon under study is more complicated than its theoretical study. The matter is that such existence is contested by some politicians, legislators, and police officers due to a variety of reasons. Firstly, the recognition of its existence means that racial discrimination is still a widely spread and topical issue and that the US society has not managed to get rid of this detrimental phenomenon that has profound impacts on racial and ethnic minorities in all domains of life, including the criminal justice system. Secondly, politicians and legislators may be reluctant to admit that law enforcement agencies are engaged in racial profiling, as it would mean that their policies aimed at improving law enforcement have largely failed in this respect. Thirdly, police officers and other law enforcement system representatives maybe even unaware of their racial prejudice, which results in racial profiling as often this process happens subconsciously. However, as shown in the above section, some police officers recognize racial profiling as a topical issue, yet they do that only in case they have been targeted by it at least once in life, i.e. if they are representatives of ethnic and racial minorities. Last but not least, it is extremely difficult to prove that the present statistics are a sign of racial profiling rather than a sign that ethnic minorities engage in criminal activities more often than the majority. The main reason why ethnic and racial minorities are overrepresented at all levels of the criminal justice system is that they are the primary targets of law enforcement officers. This way, law enforcement officers contribute to the creation of the existing statistics by targeting ethnic and racial minorities at a disproportionally higher rate than the majority. It is, for instance, evident in the example of the drug crime statistics, whereby African Americans represent a small percentage of users, yet account for the majority of drug norm violation cases.

There have also been identified some gaps in the researlating on racial profiling. Thus, there have been revealed no reliable and trustworthy sources of statistics that would constantly update information. For instance, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) provides regular reports on the results of its stop-and-frisk policies, which allows for analyzing the situation concerning racial profiling, yet similar reports from other police departments across the country do not always present accurate results in terms of the ethnic and racial division of targets, or such reports are not in free access. Moreover, the study of racial profiling from the legal perspective tends to focus on the US laws only without conducting a comparative analysis of the situation in the USA with that in other countries. The overview of the literature creates an impression that racial profiling is a significant problem only in the USA, while other countries do not suffer from this issue. A possible explanation for such a focus on the USA is its commitment to creating a discrimination-free society or the fact that in other countries, the situation may not be as severe or overlooked. In any case, racial profiling is a detrimental practice that has a profound impact on the population in the USA, as well as undermining the efficacy and effectiveness of the modern criminal justice system.

Discussion and Policy Implications

The above-conducted literature-based research proves that racial profiling does exist in the contemporary criminal justice system. Although it is frequently hardly perceptible and difficult to prove from the legal perspective, it drives present policies and actions undertaken by the police and other law enforcement agencies. Therefore, it is necessary to prove that racial profiling not only exists but also is immoral and even counterproductive, as well as to discuss different policy-related implications. The matter is that this phenomenon is an integral element of the modern criminal justice system that impacts the actions and decisions of those who are tasked with enforcing existing laws, ensuring the safety and security of the population, and making sure that people’s rights and freedoms are not violated. Since racial profiling is an act of racial discrimination, it goes against the currently prevailing social principles and democratic ideals.

Even though it is intuitively understood that it is wrong to judge people based on their race, ethnicity, and national origin and that labeling individuals as potential criminals based on the above integral features of their identity are inherently immoral, researchers and scholars have dedicated sufficient amount of attention to this aspect of racial profiling. Hence, researchers tend to agree that racial profiling is immoral and apply different moral perspectives to prove this point. For instance, Thomsen (2011) has analyzed the phenomenon from the consequentialist perspective and concluded that it is not only immoral but also counterproductive. The underlying justification of this finding is that even when the application of racial profiling may be justified, the costs of such a practice will far outweigh the possible benefits since the minorities will get marginalized and ostracized in society, racism will be perpetrated, and unjust police practices will be supported and prolonged further. In the long run, it may result in the intensification of racial discrimination in society and the enhancement of the unjust system of policing and law enforcement, thereby affecting the entire population of the country rather than ethnic and racial minorities only.

Furthermore, popular claims that racial profiling may assist the police in apprehending criminals have also been successfully challenged and disproved. One of the basic assumptions why some people believe racial profiling to be necessary and even beneficial is that it can help catch terrorists, which is why the US Patriot Act includes a provision that allows temporarily withdrawing of the rights of immigrants (Ryberg, 2011). Nonetheless, it has been proven that terrorists are rather flexible and can adapt to the expected racial characteristics and recruit new members to evade racial profiling, while ordinary citizens will continue suffering from such discriminatory practices (Ryberg, 2011). Another argument in favor of using racial profiling is the supposition that it will decrease the number of criminals among racial and ethnic minorities, thereby decreasing the crime rate. Nonetheless, this argument does not seem to be plausible due to two reasons. The first one is that the representatives of ethnic and racial minorities targeted by racial profiling may feel immense resentment and anger because of the unjustness and unfairness of the attitude towards them, which, on the contrary, may encourage more of them to perpetrate crimes to rebel against the majority-dominated society. The second reason is that racial profiling may have a reverse effect on the White majority so that they would feel free to do whatever they want without being at risk of severe punishment, thereby increasing the rate of crimes perpetrated by the representatives of this racial group (Hackney & Glaser, 2013). The study by Hackney & Glaser (2013) proves that Whites tend to increase the number of transgressions if they are in a racially mixed group because they do not fear a possible punishment, while African Americans do not violate the rules even when they have a chance to do this since they feel being constantly monitored and prejudiced against. This way, racial profiling does not contribute to the reduction of the crime rate in the country, but rather promotes further racial inequality and superiority of the ethnic and racial majority.

Moreover, even if racial profiling serves as a crime-determent technique, its costs still outweigh the benefits. People who become targets of racial profiling are usually innocent, yet the fact that they are subjected to the practice and labeled as potential criminals based on their inherent identity characteristics makes them feel humiliated and produces resentment (Bou-Habib, 2011). They feel that way because they are placed in a situation in which they look demeaning and humiliated and which they cannot control. This background injustice promotes resentment among ethnic and racial minorities, thereby increasing interracial tensions in society and undermining the cohesion of the latter (Bou-Habib, 2011). It does not mean that all uses of racial profiling are illegitimate, but it shows that the costs of using such a practice outweigh the potential benefits. In addition to these indirect harms, racial profiling also imposes direct harms, including primary violation of ethnic and racial minorities’ rights and freedoms (Reiman, 2011). As a consequence, it can result in the general tendency toward undermining the rights and freedoms of all Americans and making the US criminal justice system inherently unjust. As Reiman (2011) claims, even though racial profiling may not be inherently racist in some instances, it contributes to the spread and intensification of racism in the country.

The presence of racial profiling in the US criminal justice system has some profound policy implications. Firstly, the lack of a federal law that would regulate the phenomenon. It is not necessarily obligatory to draft a piece of legislation that would render racial profiling illegal, but rather mandatory to provide a universal definition of the phenomenon and determine a list of activities that could be termed as racial profiling. The matter is that it is undeniable that sometimes police officers may use race, ethnicity, or national origin as a basis for apprehending an individual if the suspect’s description is based on these identifiers. However, in most cases, racial profiling is truly illegal as it violates the basic principles of the US Constitution and the values of a democratic society. Secondly, current policies of the police and other law enforcement agencies need to be reviewed and revised in case racial profiling is determined as an integral component of such policies. For instance, the existing stop-and-frisk policy should be revised in a way that would prevent racial profiling of the population and would be aimed at proactive crime prevention. Finally, there is an evident need of developing and implementing a policy that would envision the increasing awareness of the individuals engaged in the law enforcement system about racial profiling, its forms, and its implications. It is extremely necessary to initiate a nationwide discussion of the issue to make people realize what unconscious prejudices they may have and rationally address these prejudices. This is especially important for the police and other law enforcement officers as their prejudices may impact the performance of their duties and subject ethnic and racial minorities to direct and indirect harm.


Overall, the present paper has been aimed at answering a topical and controversial question of whether racial profiling exists in the contemporary US criminal justice system. After having conducted comprehensive literature-based research and analyzing obtained data, the findings allow concluding that racial profiling exists in the modern criminal justice system of the USA. Furthermore, this phenomenon is mostly illegal based on the existing legislation since it does not comply with several provisions of the Constitution. Nonetheless, this issue remains a shady area from the legal perspective because of the presence of the US Patriot Act and the absence of a specific piece of legislation targeting and governing the practice. Meanwhile, racial profiling is still a rather widespread practice used by the police and other law enforcement officers as proved by the existing statistics. Moreover, some police officers, especially those who are the representatives of some ethnic or racial minority groups, recognize the existence of the phenomenon. In turn, opinions on whether racial profiling is beneficial or not for society, in general, vary with some people claiming that it is an effective crime-prevention strategy. Others, on the contrary, emphasize an immoral character of the actions that can be labeled as racial profiling. Irrespective of the particular view supported, it becomes evident that a specific policy or legislation concerning racial profiling in the criminal justice system is direly needed to address the existing controversies and regulate this sensitive issue.

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