George Zimmerman and the “Racial Profiling” Canard

Racists, all of 'em.

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.

 

 

 

20 thoughts on “George Zimmerman and the “Racial Profiling” Canard

      • Not necessarily, although the “under all circumstances” clause does complicate the question. If blacks and Hispanics (perhaps even “white-Hispanics”) commit or are accused of crimes in percentages greater than their proportionate representation among the citizenry (which is the case), it stands to reason that they will also be stopped in investigation of those crimes disproportionately. I don’t see anything racist in that. Perhaps if the question was narrower I’d revise my opinion.

  1. The real issue to me is the procedure Zimmerman allegedly used to investigate why Trayvon was in the neighborhood. Zimmerman might be racist, but I doubt he wanted to kill anyone.

  2. Since you’ve been following this story, can you tell me how Frank Taaffe knows that all eight robberies were perpetuated by young black men?

    In the interview (full transcript here), Taafe says that “my house was being robbed” by a young black man, but Zimmerman stopped it. Taafe wasn’t there, but says it was all documented on 911 calls on February 2.

    But if you look up the 911 records (the complete document is here if you scroll down), what actually happened is that Zimmerman saw a black man in a leather coat near Taafe’s house and called the cops. The police came, didn’t find anyone there, and saw no sign that the house had been disturbed.

    The interviewer asked Taafe how many of those eight prior cases included an arrest or conviction. Taafe answered, one.

    One I know where the perpetrator was apprehended. It was a daylight robbery in January of this year. The young black male went in during the daytime just two houses down from where my place was. And he was apprehended five days later by the Sanford police on a tip from the general repair folks that were working on our homes who watched the whole thing going down.

    So there’s the man Zimmerman called the cops on, who might not have been a burglar at all. There’s the young black man who was arrested.

    How does Taafe know the race of the other seven burglars?

    • THAT’s his name! Thanks…the Youtube clip had it as “Zaffe.”

      As far as the reasonable calculation goes, it doesn’t matter if the last 8 robberies were in fact performed by young black men, if that’s what Zimmerman thought as the case. I’m taking Taafe at his word. If he’s giving intentionally incorrect information, that doesn’t mean he’s a racist; it means he’s a liar.

      If Zimmerman has been told by someone he believes that there have been 8 burglaries and they have all been done by young blacks, that’s his mindset. In that mindset, it is reasonable to be especially wary of young blacks, right?

      OH! you remind me…I have part of a previous reply for you!

  3. CNN just now posted an article on this. The police reports that have been made public include eight robberies in the neighborhood in the last 14 months. There were perpetuated by black men, according to witness reports.

    As for the other five robberies:

    A homeowner who reported that someone had broken into her home and stolen a video game console referred police to a black man who had previously visited her home asking for her son.

    Police do not list that man as a suspect in their report.

    In the other four incidents, there were no witnesses or suspects, according to police reports.

    It seems to me that “three” is a very low sample size to justify armed neighborhood watch people following around every young black man they see. I also think it’s obvious that Taafe’s statements are not a reliable source of facts.

      • That’s a specious comparison. In the US, about 6 of every 10000 people you see are dwarfs; unless you live in a town with an extraordinarily high proportion of dwarfs, it genuinely is an unusual and specific identifying characteristic.

        If a fat white man with a speckled beard, long black hair, red glasses, and a red backpack were committing a string of burglaries in my area, it would be reasonable for the cops to question me, because I match a very specific and unusual description. There are probably fewer than 5 people who match that description for miles around. If they wrongly pull me over (assuming they don’t shoot me to death the way Zimmerman shot that boy to death), that’s relatively little harm done, in exchange for pretty good odds of catching the culprit.

        Being a young black man is not a specific and unusual description; it’s a common characteristic. In Sanford, Florida, I’d guess that young Black men are between 7% and 10% of the total population (Blacks are about 30% of the Sanford population, according to the Census). The chances of any random black male pedestrian being one of those three black robbers is vanishingly tiny, compared to the chances of that black male pedestrian being there for a legitimate reason. And if the police decide to start pulling over young black men, they’re inconveniencing thousands of people in exchange for virtually no chance of catching the culprit, and a significant injustice has been done to young black men, who correctly feel targeted because of their race. That’s a lot of harm done.

        • It’s gated community, so random is not the standard. How frequently are young black men seen there? If 100% of any crime has been done of members of any group, suspicion is reasonably raised for that group in that area. No?

          • So if they discovered that the crimes were committed by, let’s say, all people with brown eyes, it would justifiable to start calling the police on people with brown eyes, and following them around the neighborhood?

            • I didn’t say that. I’d say that it would be reasonable to be more suspicious of people with brown eyes than blue eyes. I never said that it was justified to follow them around the neighbor hood, and this is where the advocates in this argument forfeit my respect. The question I was addressing in the post was “Is the fact that Zimmerman may have been suspicious of Trayvon’s presence because he was a black youth proof of racism, or a hate crime. NO. Did his suspicion justify him then following the kid with a loaded gun? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO..and I didn’t say or suggest or imply or ever believe or think that it was. This case consists of 1) what Zimmerman thought and believed 2) How he acted on those thoughts 3) what Trayvon thought 4) how HE acted 5) who did what when and again 6) what Zimmerman thought. I was discussing 1) and 1) only.

  4. I agree with Barry. In the absence of other suspicious behavior, “young black male” is not nearly a specific enough descriptor to be actionable. Trayvon was apparently doing nothing more than walking home in the early evening, with his hoodie on, in the rain. Zimmerman apparently felt this behavior was alarming enough to call the police. Being a young black male is not illegal, nor does it warrant being put under police surveillance. But as Zimmerman also allegedly called the police on a seven year black child who was behaving “suspiciously”, perhaps he believes it is.

    Where do you feel the line is between acceptable racial profiling and unnacceptable, “racist” racial profiling?

    • I agree with Barry.
      Good. Barry deserves allies.

      In the absence of other suspicious behavior, “young black male” is not nearly a specific enough descriptor to be actionable.
      Who said it was “actionable?” Suspicion isn’t “action.” No action was justified. Suspicion was justified
      Trayvon was apparently doing nothing more than walking home in the early evening, with his hoodie on, in the rain. Zimmerman apparently felt this behavior was alarming enough to call the police.
      You don’t know what he looked like he was doing. Zimmerman said he was acting suspiciously—I haven’t heard what prompted that. You are speculating.

      Being a young black male is not illegal, nor does it warrant being put under police surveillance.
      Again, you don’t know. I live in a cul de sac—I call the police at 1 AM when two cars with their headlights on meet in the parking lot next to my house, and two people get out and exchange something. That’s not illegal per se, but it looks like a drug deal, and often it is. Are you saying I shouldn’t call 911?

      “But as Zimmerman also allegedly called the police on a seven year black child who was behaving “suspiciously”, perhaps he believes it is.”
      (You do mean 17, right?) Who knows what he thought was suspicious?

      Where do you feel the line is between acceptable racial profiling and unacceptable, “racist” racial profiling?
      When it’s based on reasonable, rational logic—like in airport screening—it’s racial profiling. When the mere fact of race itself, without more, conveys suspicion, its racism. The string of burglaries is “more.”

  5. No, I meant a seven year old. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/03/23/did-trayvon-shooter-abuse-911.html

    Perhaps the seven year old was suspicious, sucking on his lollipop in a very criminal manner, the way young black males tend to do.

    “When it’s based on reasonable, rational logic—like in airport screening—it’s racial profiling. When the mere fact of race itself, without more, conveys suspicion, its racism. The string of burglaries is “more.”

    I guess I don’t see it. If the person’s behavior gives rise to suspicion, that’s one thing. If the description is so narrowly tailored that it can only fit a few people, that’s another. But if a description fits 30% of the people in the neighborhood, it’s basically useless, and constrains those people’s rights unfairly. One of Zimmrman’s neighbors interviewed stated that he was afraid to come out of the house and walk around his own neighborhood thanks to Zimmerman’s suspicions of black males in the area.

    • Again, you don’t know why he called, or what he found suspicious. I think he was excessively wary, maybe fearful, certainly a worrier, possibly paranoid about strangers. None of which suggests that he saw Trayvon and decided to go shoot him.

  6. Maybe it was profiling. Am I too naive not to be concerned with that as much as the mistakes made by George. Trayvon happened to be a black man looking suspicious. A man who was wearing a hoody, acting suspicious and just happened to be black. Did it warrant George calling the police? I think so. Should George continue to observe his movement while in the pickup? I think so. Should George while in his pickup with a window down but doors locked approach Trayvon? I don’t see the harm. Can George have a pistol? Yes, if he had the permit. My guess it that George got out of his truck with the pistol. Was he at ready pistol? No one knows but George. Did Trayvon look or act aggressive towards George? Only George knows. Was George thinking race when he was trailing Trayvon? He might have, but if he was watching for anything unusual I really think that was far from his mind except for a description. Geoge should have never left the truck unless he actually witnessed someone about to get hurt or in the process of getting hurt. He should have maintained visual and let the police handle it from there. I still believe that George was under trained to handle that situation. He shouldn’t have been an armed security guard for that gated community!

  7. Dear ‘deery’,

    In the comments to the link you posted for the Daily Beast article, a reader posted the 911 transcript on the 7-9 year old black boy of whom you are speaking. It is clear that the call was made because Zimmerman was concerned that the young boy was alone on a busy street. Just saying…

    I am outraged that Zimmerman murdered a 17 year old in cold blood and is not being held accountable, but the media has been completely irresponsible by trying to make this about race – I think it has more to do with the state of George’s mental health – paranoid, obsessive, etc.

    And, to James Flood… you said, “If blacks and Hispanics… commit or are accused of crimes in percentages greater than their proportionate representation among the citizenry (which is the case)”… If you take a good look at history, the fact that police target these groups has contributed to their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. I’m not saying racial profiling is 100% wrong, but if you only pull over and question black or Hispanic men, you’re only going to see black and Hispanic men being prosecuted. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and perpetuates more criminal activity because once you have a record and are caught up in the system it’s much harder to get a job and support your family.

    I am a white female, and I can tell you from experience, I’ve only had trouble with the cops a few times when it was completely unwarranted… where my civil rights were absolutely violated with no probably cause… and each time there was a black male in my car. I just thank God I wasn’t born a black male, and I have a feeling that you, James, have no idea of the racism that truly is alive in our police forces and criminal justice system.

    • “Zimmerman murdered a 17 year old in cold blood and is not being held accountable.”

      You just cannot say this, and it is irresponsible to try. “In cold blood” suggests premeditation, and there isn’t a shred of evidence for that. For one thing, cold-blooded murderers don’t call 911 about their victims. Nor can you say it is definitively murder at all, until a self-defense claim has been investigated and tried. And if the circumstances fit under Florida’s “Stand your Ground” law, it isn’t murder by definition If teh law says it ain’t murder, it ain’t murder until you change the law.

      Nor can you say that he’s not being held accountable. You don’t know that until a decision not to prosecute is final, and it is not.

      Other than that, it’s an accurate statement….

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