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