On the frequently disgusting but reliably gripping CBS drama “Criminal Minds,” viewers quickly get accustomed to hearing the FBI profiler heroes alert police and public to be on the look-out for a “white, middle-aged man.” Why man? Easy: virtually all serial killers are male. Why white? Same thing: although a rare black serial killer comes along (the D.C. snipers were African-American), the vast majority of serial killers from Jack the Ripper onward have been Caucasian.
You know, I just don’t feel denigrated by the fictional FBI’s alert (the real FBI would do the same.) Telling the public that the individual butchering prostitutes or massacring families is the same race as I am isn’t bias, bigotry or racism, it’s logic. It is also, beyond question, racial profiling, which, under the right circumstances, makes sense, prevents crime, catches criminals, and isn’t unethical or racist in the least.
So effectively have civil rights advocates and the media managed to bias the public against rational racial profiling, however, that the phrase itself has become a synonym for racism. When you mangle and distort a descriptive term in this way, blurring the distinctions between phrases and concepts, the culture gets a lobotomy and forced aphasia. What is the term for a fair and legitimate conclusion that a particular crime in a particular area is more likely to be performed by one race than another? Right now, the term is racism.
I often wonder how different, and more rational, TSA procedures would be at airports if Norman Mineta, President Bush’s Secretary of Transportation after 9-11, had not been among the Japanese-Americans unjustly sent to internment camps after Pearl Harbor. Of course Mineta, a victim of tragically flawed racial profiling, the kind polluted by irrational fear and racism, would insist on a screening procedure that omitted profiling completely, even though such a system is wasteful, inefficient, ineffective and abusive. As is the case in other realms, outrageous abuse of a legitimate practice can so taint the image of the practice that it becomes too risky and too controversial to use, even when employing it is appropriate, and when there is no equally effective substitute.
As the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck rumbles on, “racial profiling” has been waved like a red flag. This morning, on CNN’s “Starting Point,” the efforts by the media to try the Martin death on TV so it will be impossible to try it later in court continued with one of my least favorite and most biased hosts, Soledad O’Brien, grilling an earnest and brave middle-aged neighbor of Zimmerman’s. O’Brien, she of the perpetually raised eyebrow, knowing smirk and “you really expect me to believe a scumbag like you?” tone of voice, elicited the information that there had been eight burglaries in the gated community in a brief period before the Martin shooting, and neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was operating with enhanced suspicion. The neighbor noted that the perpetrators of all eight burglaries had been young black men. O’Brien’s eyebrow, smirk and tone indicated that she took this as a significant “gotcha”: so Zimmerman was profiling the kid–Bwa hahahahaha!!!
Fearing he was a) about to set up his neighbor in front of the hoodie firing squad, and b) suspecting (correctly) that O’Brien was trying to make him seem like a racist too, the neighbor backtracked—No,no! he tap-danced, what I mean is that after eight burglaries, George was going to be suspicious of any stranger walking through that neighborhood!
MAJOR look of skepticism, contempt and “okay, I guess everybody knows where you’re coming” from look from Soledad. Yup, you trapped him…congratulations! His choice, thanks to the media’s spin on racial profiling, was to look like a racist or sound like a liar. What he should have been able to say, however, was this:
“After eight burglaries, George and the whole community was on alert, and he was going to be suspicious of any strangers. But since there had been eight burglaries by young black men, George was also going to be especially suspicious of strangers who were young black men…and there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t make him a racist. It means that he is capable of basic logic.”
Was Zimmerman engaging in some degree of racial profiling? I’d be surprised if he wasn’t…the right and logical kind of racial profiling. Would Soledad O’Brien engage in the same kind of racial profiling if her neighborhood had suffered from a mass of burglaries, all performed by young, black men? If she wouldn’t she’s an idiot, and I don’t think she is an idiot. Would she admit this on CNN? She would if she was interested in clarifying the issues rather than muddying them, contributing to reason rather than finger pointing and hysteria, and being fair and objective rather than pressing a racial agenda. Courage and integrity would also help.
Again, none of this argues that George Zimmerman as or wasn’t guilty of homicide when he shot Trayvon Martin. What I am saying is that whether he was racial profiling or not proves nothing.