Integrity Check For Homeland Security: Profiling At The Boston Marathon Bombing

...unless the government feels like it, in which case it's just fine. Got that?

…unless the government feels like it, in which case it’s just fine. Got that?

Shortly after the bombs went off in Boston, we were told that a “person of interest” was in custody and undergoing questioning. As detailed in a New Yorker piece, the young man who was apprehended and interrogated for five hours became a person of interest for one reason and one reason only: he “looked like a terrorist.” He was a Saudi national with a foreign name, and despite the fact that he was wounded in the blasts and acted no differently from any of the other horrified victims in the crowd, he was detained and his apartment was searched. Ultimately it was determined that he was innocent of wrongdoing, and he was released.

Oops! Never mind! Have a nice day!

Except I was under the impression that this practice, which is racial profiling beyond any question, was something this administration and the Dept. of Homeland Security rejected philosophically and practically. It is wrong, and it doesn’t work—or so those of us who are sick of going through invasive and time-consuming screenings at airports are told when we dare to suggest that there may be a better way than feeling up six-year-old girls and senile old men in wheelchairs. The conduct of agents and law enforcement officials in apprehending the young man for his garb, name and the color of his skin shows either that our government doesn’t really believe what it is telling us about profiling, or that it is willing to discard its human rights principles when the pressure is on. Which is it? I see no third explanation

If, as its actions Monday suggest, Homeland Security really does believe that racial profiling is a valid technique, then its rejection of it in other settings at great cost and inconvenience to law-abiding citizens is incompetent and reckless. If, on the other hand, our government believes that it is wrong to ever single out an individual for suspicion of wrongdoing purely based on external characteristics (and the ordeal the innocent young Saudi had to endure is compelling evidence why it is wrong) then it’s conduct demonstrated Monday that it is willing to  violate principles of fairness and decency  if it can solve a pressing problem—in other words, that the ends justify the means. Either way, this government that so many of our fellow citizens want to give more and more authority and power over their lives did not demonstrate that it is worthy of such trust—but then, some of us knew that already.

What if, in a twist of moral luck, racial profiling had worked in Boston, and the young man was indeed the bomber? Does anyone think that this government, so enamored of political correctness and race-baiting strategems, would ever re-open the matter of limited profiling as an anti-terrorism tool? For that matter, does anyone think that this government believes that it is bound by the principles and rules that it preaches to us? When it seemed expedient to profile, Janet Napolitano’s minions profiled. Rules are for the little people, after all.

I wonder if they would have detained Trayvon Martin? Probably not…since he looks like President Obama’s son…

The  hypocrisy of what happened in Boston signaled that the Marathon bombing has joined the ranks of full-fledged ethics train wrecks, most of which are fueled by the immutable principle that when the going gets tough, the tough usually get unethical. Before everything jumps the tracks, however, I would like to hear a coherent explanation from the Secretary of Homeland Security about why racial profiling is bad, bad, bad…until the government chooses to do it.

_____________________________

Pointer: Charles Green (Thanks, Charles!)

Source: New Yorker

26 Comments

Filed under Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Race, Rights, U.S. Society

26 responses to “Integrity Check For Homeland Security: Profiling At The Boston Marathon Bombing

  1. Patrice

    You had me, Jack, until you wrote this cheap statement, that is immaterial to the good arguments you had already made: “I wonder if they would have detailed Trayvon Martin? Probably not…since he looks like President Obama’s son…” Stick to rational arguments and reasoning.

    • It’s not a rational conclusion to the assertion the government will profile when politically expedient and will not profile when it isn’t politically expedient as opposed to having a rule that applies regardless of the scenario?

    • Why is that cheap? We listened to endless pontificating and race-baiting about how Martin was “profiled,” though there was no evidence of it whatsoever. Then this guy was considered suspicious because of the color of his skin and what he was wearing. Why is a hoodie any less a legitimate reason for suspicion than a burnoose? This is a double standard, and the President played the case card while his own agents apparently use the same standards he was attacking and worse, personalizing. Sorry. If you make a statement like he did, you dare not preside over conduct like what went down in Boston. Not cheap at all. Uncomfortable.

    • And another thing—the President’s Trayvon statement, which I did and do think was despicable, feeding the rush to judge Zimmerman and validating the vigilante efforts against him, were predicated on 1) The assumption that Zimmerman was profiling Martin, when there was and is no evidence to suggest that, and 2) that profiling is an offense to fairness and human respect. Then Obama’s government profiles another kid, where there is no question, unlike with Zimmerman, that profiling is involved. Is this not outrageous hypocrisy? Does it not show cynical grandstanding in the Martin case? Why is it cheap to call the president on such conduct?

      It is the conduct that’s cheap, not the exposure of it.

      • Patrice

        AND ANOTHER THING… 🙂
        OK. I’ve known in my heart since the second that they said that the young man was Saudi that he was probably innocent and that witnesses and officials were ABSOLUTELY profiling him. And I was right. And I have known this long time that the President spoke idiotically and unethically regarding the Trayvon Martin case. I just found your bringing it up amidst the current clear-cut case to be out of place. It jarred me as I read it. And it just seemed to “cheapen” what you had already written, because it was unnecessary.

        • I actually went back and added it after I posted. Because, frankly, it ticks me off.

          • Well, he’d been injured in the blast, and had fled the scene instead of getting medical care there – I don’t care if they are the whitest white guy ever, *I* would want to talk to that person.

            Where you should direct your anger is the media that rushed to publish anything they could find about the kid, proving that Richard Jewell taught them nothing.

            • The problem with the various media companies is the race to be the first to report, ends up with inaccurate and unconfirmed reports based on speculation on the ground.

            • postalslave

              If I were a Saudi in America and a bomb just went off, I’d probably flee too. You know, racial profiling and all…

            • Luke G

              I don’t know, if I’d been injured by one bomb blast and was still in good enough shape to flee, I’d be sorely tempted to get the heck out of there. If he could leave on his own he probably didn’t need urgent or immediate medical care, so why stay around where things were exploding instead of getting to safety and THEN worrying about your various cuts and abrasions?

  2. oldgraymary

    This administration gives hypocrisy new meaning. Racism and racial profiling is to Obama what communism was said to be to Joe McCarthy. From http://www.eppc.org/publication/barack-obamas-lost-years/ :

    Obama’s signature crime legislation was his effort to combat alleged racial discrimination by the Illinois police. In 2003, the Defender said Obama had “made a career” out of his annual battle for a bill against racial profiling. For years, profiling legislation was bottled up by the Illinois senate’s Republican leader. When senate control shifted to the Democrats in 2003, Obama’s racial profiling bill finally passed-just in time to give his drive for the U.S. Senate nomination a major boost. At the time, Obama touted his profiling bill as “a model for the nation.” It’s also said that Obama showed a willingness to listen to police during the negotiations that led to the final bill. With the Democrats in control, however, the police had little choice but to work with Obama. As Obama himself made clear at the time, the police never abandoned their opposition to the bill.

    Police doubts were entirely justified. Obama’s bill is a deeply flawed example of precisely the sort of grievance-driven race-based politics that fuels legislation on affirmative action and minority set-asides. All of these “remedies” falsely leap from statistical evidence of racial disparities to claims of discrimination. In the case of racial profiling, disproportionate police stops of black or Hispanic motorists in no way prove discrimination.

    In her path-breaking 2001 study, “The Myth of Racial Profiling,” Heather Mac Donald assembled the evidence. It showed that racially disparate patterns of drug-interdiction stops in New Jersey, one of the first states supposedly proven to have practiced racial profiling, in fact reflected racial differences in the transport of drugs. Drug trafficking is not evenly spread across the population (as profiling activists improperly assume), and for the most part New Jersey police were simply going where the drugs were.

    • tgt

      All of these “remedies” falsely leap from statistical evidence of racial disparities to claims of discrimination. In the case of racial profiling, disproportionate police stops of black or Hispanic motorists in no way prove discrimination.

      Actually, yes. Disproportionate stops does prove discrimination.

      In her path-breaking 2001 study, “The Myth of Racial Profiling,” Heather Mac Donald assembled the evidence. It showed that racially disparate patterns of drug-interdiction stops in New Jersey, one of the first states supposedly proven to have practiced racial profiling, in fact reflected racial differences in the transport of drugs.

      This wasn’t a study. It was a treatise. It didn’t show anything.

      Drug trafficking is not evenly spread across the population (as profiling activists improperly assume)

      Strawman. Also, irrelevant. The racial disparity in the stops was what showed profiling, not the racial disparity in the percentage of people who were guilty of anything AFTER the stops. Ugh.

  3. Other Bill

    Good one, Jack. I understand the Celtics are just this morning posing in Burnooses for a picture to be captioned “We Are All That Kid From Saudi Arabia Who Has an Apartment in Revere.” And advocates are planning the “Billion Burnoose March” down Boylston Street for later tomorrow.

  4. From a counter terror security stand point, the disparity between non-racial profiling at the airport and racial profiling at the scene of a terror attack can be explained pretty succinctly.

    Planes represent a class of high value high probability targets. Targets that we know terrorists want to hit and that would be especially damaging for them to pull off successfully. Thus everyone is searched, including the young and the senile old, because people can be coerced or are not of sound enough mind to know otherwise. Child suicide bombers are nothing new and it wouldn’t be the first time someone has had their family kidnapped to force them to do something.

    At the scene of an attack we can look at two possible explanations. Firstly that security agents were indeed racially profiling as method of expedient threat recognition (the right/wrong of this being a separate issue).

    The second possibility is that the crowd was racially profiling. This is a gross over simplification of the mechanism but its possible that the agents observed the man exerting whats called a “kinetic push” on the crowd around him – people going out of there way to avoid him or people in a dense crowd giving him a comparatively large amount of personal space – as result of conscious or sub-conscious association of his ethnicity with terrorism. Given the immediate after math of a terrorist attack, its not hard to picture people avoiding someone who “looks like a terrorist.”

    Either way the government’s disparity would seem reasonable.
    [the writing came out choppier than I would have liked but its early and my first cup of coffee is still a couple of hours in the future]

    • It’s not reasonable if the position of the administration is that profiling is always, always wrong—and that IS its position. It is reasonable, in police work, for police to expect and be suspicious of drug activity in high crime areas when that area happens to be predominantly black or Hispanic. The Justice Department has argued otherwise.

      I also don’t think the current execution of “non-profiling” procedures is reasonable in airports. Is Al Gore really a threat? Martha Stewart? The TSA, with its new knife policy, has admitted that looking for too many things makes it easier for something dangerous to slip through. Screening would be better with fewer passengers screened, and the Scandinavian family’s 6 year old daughter, grandfather in a wheelchair, and scantily clad teen daughter in tight T0shirt and shorts would be reasonable candidates to skip—if Homeland Security and the Administration didn’t feel that they should be treated just like the dark-skinned, shifty-eyed Muslim 20-something with no luggage…for show, of course, and “orinciple.”

      • tgt

        It is reasonable, in police work, for police to expect and be suspicious of drug activity in high crime areas when that area happens to be predominantly black or Hispanic. The Justice Department has argued otherwise.

        Yes. It’s reasonable to spend more time in the area, but it’s not reasonable to assume that any black person in the area is a criminal.

  5. Actual profiling by the government only occurs under one possibility. The other is a reaction to the baseline violation caused by other people’s profiling. And if it were to occur I would point out that the government is not the same thing as the administration.

    Moreover none of the people listed should be allowed to universally skip screening. Each of those individuals represent low frequency high risk situations where it is highly unlikely that they will be carrying anything but catastrophic if they are. Remember that planes are a static HVT, terrorists dont have to come up with plans on the fly; they have the benefit of years to gather intel and plan these ops. Also remember that there are semi-automatic pistols that are comparable to the size of a modern cell phone and that drugs can be hidden almost anywhere. If I were a terrorist and I heard that TSA was letting all kids or infirm pass unscreened I would immedeitely set out to exploit that. So not only does universal screening prevent most forms of contraband from making it onto a plane it prevents terrorists from being able to successfully coerce the very same people you mentioned – its a counter terror strategy that makes a lot sense.

    • tgt

      The reference to drugs on planes is beyond stupid. Drugs are not terrorism.

      I don’t want to get into the stupidity of the universal screening argument in general.

      • Are drugs relevant to terrorism (in this case)? No. Are drugs relevant to air port screenings? Yes. Youll find the second paragraph argues justifications for universal screening – the emphasis is on terror because that’s what I know well. This does not, however, reduce the saliency of drug control to the subject.

        Declaring something stupid doesnt make it so.

        • tgt

          The possibility of drugs on airplanes doesn’t justify universal screening anymore than the possibility of drugs justifies universal screening of all highways. It’s like you don’t think the 4th amendment exists.

          Your comment was stupid, not because I declared it so, but because it was.

  6. tgt

    I’d say the issue here is that the government does believe in equality as a maxim, but pretty much everyone below them doesn’t, and the upper levels have never had the will to pay the political price in actually enforcing the equality. This goes for any number of general rights (like the 4th amendment). Obama’s the one in power right now, so it’s appropriate to call him out, so long as we realize that 4 years from now we’ll be calling out someone else.

  7. LE interacts with crime in two ways. 1) They attempt to apprehend perpetrators of crimes already committed. 2) They attempt to prevent future crimes. At this time, let us concern ourselves with the second.
    Let’s take Bank Robbery, for instance. Here, in Maricopa County, Arizona, cc videos of Bank Robberies, taken during the crime, are often shown on the nightly news. Having lived in said County for 73 years, I can state for certain, that these folks in the videos are not randomly picked from the local population. Except for an occasional oddball (clown suit, paper bag over head, big blond wig, etc.), you could say “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all”, and this often repeated appearance does not resemble the vast majority of bank patrons.
    Supposing we task a very sophisticated computer system to show an average appearance (composite) of those on the videos (no oddballs in the mix). This composite appearance of Maricopa County Bank Robbers will not resemble the Queen of England, or Chairman Mao. Now a logical method to attempt to prevent future bank robberies here in Maricopa County, would be to assign a computer to a video feed displaying the approach to the entrance of banks. The computer would use a program that matches approaching subject’s appearances with the composite previously generated.
    When a likely match occurs, an alarm could be triggered to instigate additional security at the bank in question. Even though the composite may resemble a certain portion of the local population more than others, it is not RACIAL PROFILING, it is BANK ROBBER PROFILING.
    Let’s suppose that this same system is developed in an attempt to prevent a completely imaginary crime. We will call this crime “I-Crime”. Now let us also suppose that the composite of the perpetrators of “I-Crime” does , in fact, resemble the Queen of England. If we then set the security program to react to individuals resembling the Queen of England, we are “I-Crime” profiling. We are not Royal Programming, nor are we violating the rights of the Royals.
    With these mental exercises fresh in our heads, why would we think that profiling to an average composite of “suicide bombers” would tread on anyone’s Human Rights. We would only be “Suicide Bomber Profiling.”

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