By Bakhitah Abdul-Ra’uf
Academic and popular discourse about American policing often examines police misconduct and corruption. On further examination, the police subculture may contribute, at least in part, to some of the misconduct. Police subculture, like many other subcultures, has its own customs, morals and taboos. However, what makes policing unique in comparison to other subcultures, is the type of service and protection that is provided to society. Social control is another way of describing this phenomenon. Few subcultures, other than those related to law enforcement, provide service and protection to a society. In the course of providing this service and protection, disputes can occur, and often do. We can then say, with some certainty, that disputes often make the profession a potentially difficult and dangerous one.
societies, regardless of the complexity, rely on some form of social control,
because in most societies members have conflicting interests. For example, in every society people may want
things that others possess and are reluctant to give away. From the simplest band level/hunter-gatherer
societies to the most complex of societies, members have conflicting
interests. Anthropologist have noted
that even the most peaceful hunter-gatherer society cannot exist without some
form of in-group/out-group differentiation, no matter how culturally simple or
complex it may be (Ike, 1987:216-218). For these reasons, every culture must,
therefore, have structural provisions for resolving conflicts of interest in an
orderly fashion and for preventing conflicts from escalating into disruptive
confrontations. Much anthropological and
criminological research confirms this idea, as do the personal experiences of many
people who live or work in impoverished and/or urban communities. Moreover,
incidents involving conflict between African Americans, in particular, and
police officers when police enter their communities have been precipitating
factors in most of the recent civil disorders in the
Complaints from many African
American communities allege that the police routinely use excessive force
against members of minority populations.
Yet, some police officers suggest that many African American males
exhibit aggressive behavior towards the police (Wintersmith,
1974). This sort of mutual antagonism often prevents favorable police/African
American relations. The word aggression
is often used among the general dominant population in the
Much research indicates that people recruited and selected to be police officers reflect the values of the dominant culture, and that law enforcement agencies do not equitably serve and protect all communities. Radelet (1986) suggest that some of the reasons may be rooted in cultural misunderstanding and mutual antagonism. To the extent that those values are prejudiced or discriminatory to a group or groups in the society, police activity may reinforce and generate a plethora of victims and the security of their property. If police are unable to, as they perceive it, protect the lives and property of individuals, then they lack the essence of doing real police work, or at least seem to be unable to identify fully as police officers.
In their line of work, police officers must constantly approach strangers, some of whom may be dangerous, or, may have immediate unidentified behavioral problems and intentions of causing them injury or even death (Stretcher, 1971). Moreover, because police officers all occupy the same social-institutional position, they tend to face the same kinds of problems (resulting in similar attitudes) arising out of the nature of the position.
Because police officers are, by occupational prescription, inclined to be suspicious, they tend to isolate themselves from what they perceive as an unsympathetic, critical, unworthy, and uncomprehending community, and to form their own in-group alliance with fellow officers (Lundman, 1980).
Wesley, (1970) studied a police department, as an occupational setting/subculture, focusing on the relationship between law, custom, and morality. The purpose of his study was to analyze an institution of great public interest, which occupies an increasingly significant position in society. He also wanted to indicate: 1) the genesis of and describe the norms that police develop; 2) to demonstrate how these norms function to distort and diminish the effectiveness of law enforcement; and, 3) to describe the process by which values are internalized and come to constitute a morality. What he found was that the first phase of the occupation functions to detach officers from previous life patterns and prepare them to accept a new one. The second phase involves the interaction of the rookie with the more experienced officers, and the communication, directly and indirectly, of the secrets and customs of the police. The third phase involves the rookies taking responsibility for their own actions and learning that the public is everything that the older officers said it would be. In the third phase rookies become emotionally involved in upholding the values of the group because they come to recognize that doing so involves their own self-esteem. At this point, of course with formal classroom training and field training, the rookie becomes a police officer.
Other research informs us that applicants with certain characteristics and from a certain background are more likely to be selected from the pool of applicants as recruits than certain others. According to Alpert and Dunham (1997) there has been considerable discussion concerning whether people who possess certain characteristics are more likely to express an interest in police work than others, and if this depends upon previous socialization or social environment. If this is the case, applicants for police work share common interests and characteristics before they become police officers.
The past and current forces of change in American society, including urbanization, racial and ethnic integration and other social movements of the 1960’s, redistribution of wealth and power, and an increasingly lucrative illegal drug economy are problematic for the police. They are certainly not responsible for them; nor are they prepared to deal with them. Since they are not responsible for the forces of change in American society, to some, they are not justified in attempting to prevent such change. Because the greater part of the police subculture shares the same external/conscious and internal/subconscious aspects as do the dominant group in American society, many officers do not consider very favorably the multicultural environment and the increasingly diverse backgrounds that exist in this country. This may be due, at least in part, to negative images. Stereotyping by both the media and politicians indicates that African American males and Latinos are the two most dangerous groups when it comes to street level crimes.
For the above reasons, this paper examines police-African American relations and racial profiling. Participant observation, the basis for the ethnographic data collected and presented here was conducted over 18 months. I continue to work with and observe at the original police department during parts of the summer months. I also observe in local settings in and around the area in which I reside.
In 1992, as an anthropologist doing ethnography, I sought to identify ways to improve the relationship and understanding between African American inner city communities and the police by describing and analyzing the occupational subculture of the police. With the permission of the police chief, I enrolled as a recruit in a regular recruit training class of a midsize city’s police academy. I later rode on the street with veteran officers. I had no intention of ever becoming a police officer, nor have I ever been a police officer. My primary reason for enrolling in the academy was to observe and experience the recruit training process. I was interested in who were selected as recruits, the intensity of the training and the socialization process among recruits and with veteran officers/instructors. My other objective was to gain an insider’s view of how the police interact with residents in an urban area. The police chief was more than willing to accommodate me, perhaps, to exonerate them from accusations brought forth by many African American residents. The academy personnel, however, did not( initially) look kindly on me as an outsider. It may have been difficult to be received with open arms, because being an American Muslim may have given me some association, or, at least an affinity with a another political/religious group that hates and profoundly distrust the police.
The essential core of this activity aimed to understand the occupational subculture of the police and their way of life from their point of view. This method was also intended to overcome some of the obstacles to obtaining valid information when using surveys and questionnaires, especially on controversial issues. Although these observations may have validity elsewhere, no claims were made beyond this particular setting.
As a means of determining how people view and behave within their world, participant observation enables the researcher to verify that individuals are doing what they claim they are doing. Anthropological field workers should totally immerse themselves in the lives of the people whom they study; and that can only be done through long months of residence in the local scene. Ethnography, as a research style involves a heightened and continual concern for the consequences of one’s social and personal identity upon the observed situations (Van Maanan, 1982).
The hallmark of the anthropological method is participant observation. In addition to daily attendance at the academy, I took part in the social lives of recruits and veteran officers, asked many questions when I did not understand, and watched and listened carefully. An ethnographic approach provided me with intimate knowledge concerning the day-to-day behavior of police personnel. As to the extent possible, I “hung out” with police officers, attempting to understand their lives, but yet remaining a local resident in the community. In order to convey the range of differences in culture and life style of many veteran officers, who happen to be white, and those of African American residents, I attempted to describe attitudes, values, and behavior that are likely to prevent positive police-African American relations.
. As a “minority”, thoughts of my subsequent role as a police participant observer provoked anxiety. First, my constant thoughts were that African Americans generally disliked police officers; and second, I was beginning to become a temporary member of this subculture, which was so disliked.
Over the past 40 years police have been frequently accused of harassing and being discourteous to many American citizens, and they give little credence to charges that they treat minorities unfairly or improperly which includes racial profiling.
In the mid 1980s, the major interstate routes, (Interstate 95 and 11) that both travel north and south on or near the east coast, became major drug routes for the distribution of drugs to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC and other major cities along the east coast.
One of the
most common methods of racial profiling in today’s society has been coined DWB
or Driving While Black. Under this
pretext, police target African Americans for traffic stops because they believe
that African Americans are more likely to become engaged in criminal
activity. However, this method of
profiling was not the first. Let us
examine this farther. One of the first
methods of profiling actually came in a battle against air piracy. The “hijackers
profile” as it was called, was used to stop the hijacking of American commercial
To prevent hijacking, the crime needed to be stopped on the ground using a profile, which was developed by a government task force. Those passengers who met the profile had their boarding cards marked. They were all screened and those who set off the detector and had a marked boarding card were singled out for further inquiry.
The profiling proved largely unsuccessful. As it did reduce hijacking, it failed to stop them. The task force found the best way to curb hijacking was through the electronic screening of all passengers.
Recall above the list of drug courier profiles used for hijackers. Similarly, in highway profiling the driver’s demeanor is observed. Observations such as vehicles not registered in the driver’s name, driving overcautiously, items being out of place (spare tire in back seat and not in trunk), and use of large late model vehicles with male drivers who avoids eye contact were all cumulative similarities that might indicate a drug courier vehicle. Although all of those items are indicators, according to Trooper Vogel a lot has to do with training and experience (Harris, 1999).
a result of Trooper Vogel’s accomplishments in drug enforcement, the
Many feel that this method of profiling is an abuse of power that can be blamed on the government’s war on drug policy. This method of profiling has been endorsed by lawmakers and administrations of both political parties (Harris, 1999).
war on drugs has actually been a war on many people and their constitutional
rights. African American, Latinos and
other minorities seem to bear the brunt of the damage. This is a war that has spawned racial
profiles of supposed drug couriers. On
Let us take a closer look at what some minorities call “driving while black.” Kenneth Meeks (2000) describes racial profiling as the tactic of stopping someone only because of the color of his or her skin and a fleeting suspicion that the person is engaging in criminal activity. It is generally targeted more toward young African American men and women than any other group. In recent years however, Asians, Latinos, and young whites with long hair have been profiled more than ever.
Man people believe that racial profiling is a justified form of law enforcement and detective work. The state of New Jersey Attorney General’s office has acknowledged that racial profiling does exist and the practice has been proven over and over again.
New Collegiate Dictionary actually includes an entry for the term racial
profiling as, “the mass policy of stopping and searching vehicles driven by
people of particular races.”(Meeks, 2000, p.5)
Although a new term in the dictionary, racial profiling has been around
for decades. Racial profiling is not
new. As a matter of fact, the problem of
“driving while black” can be traced back to a time in early American history
when court officials in major cities permitted constables and ordinary citizens
to “take up” all black persons seen out in public without their master’s
permission. Under slavery laws this
could be justified if individuals were seen as property. From this early time in history, and at
present, the practice of racial profiling can be observed in
Is racial profiling as subtle form of legal prejudice or is it a legitimate crime detecting strategy? The controversy surrounding racial profiling emerged with the indictment of two New Jersey State Troopers on attempted murder and assault charges arising from a shooting during a routine traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1998. That same year, there were numerous misdemeanor charges of officers who were falsifying their personal activity logs to conceal the disproportionate number of minority drivers that they were accused of stopping on New Jersey highways in their district.
The practice of profiling is questionable in a number of ways. From a legal point of view, it is difficult to prove. A national movement is in place that will require law enforcement agencies to keep statistics on who is stopped, detained, questioned, and searched. Leaders in African American communities say this may be the only way to make sure that people are not being stopped because of the color of their skin. Several attempts in congress were made to enact a federal law requiring law enforcement agencies to keep such records on all traffic stops. These attempts were defeated in the senate.
Another questionable practice of racial profiling is that the courts contend that the law should not regard large groups of American citizens as criminals based solely on their race. However, the courts must acknowledge that facts should not be simply ignored because they may be unpleasant. People of color and whites do not commit crimes nor are they the victims of crime proportionately to their respective numbers within the general population.
Americans (especially young African American males) are arrested or detained
for committing, dramatically, more street crimes in the
In some form or another, we all participate in racial profiling. We may presume certain behaviors about people, perhaps because of general appearance, dress, etc.
The entire racial profiling concern centers on the violation of the fourth and fourteenth amendments.
The Fourth Amendment states:
“The right of the people to secure in their person, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath of affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the person or things to be seized.”
The Fourteenth Amendment states:
“All persons, born or
naturalized I the
In the fourth amendment, the belief is that racial profiling is relative to the fact that police have no legal basis for the law enforcement action (Frederickson, 2002). Critics believe that racial profiling is relative to the fourteenth amendment in that police have a legal basis for the enforcement action, but the action is allegedly motivated more by bias than any reasonable suspicion or probable cause that may exist under the circumstances (Frederickson, 2002).
There are many other concerns involving racial profiling, but are they legitimate? Consider the following one. A five year-old German shepherd police dog was accused of racial profiling. In McKees Rocks, PA, a city councilwoman accused the police department’s only police dog of racial profiling. According to the councilwoman, the police dog, Dolpho, attacked a nine year old, African American boy instead of an alleged drug dealer who police had engaged in a physical altercation. (Associated Press, Nov. 2002). The councilwoman stated that in the past year she had received six complaints about Dolpho. The three who complained were involved in drugs. Three others were African Americans that believed the dog attacked them because of their race.
Most owners of canine training schools believe the charges were ludicrous. However, Dr. Nick Dodman, a national expert on an animal behavior at Tuft’s University School of Veterinary Medicine says not only can dogs determine race, but they also can develop prejudices similar to humans.
Another example of racial
profiling comes from
A national survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice statistics as a supplement to the national crime victimization survey reported that African American drivers were more likely than other to be stopped at least once in 1999. That is 12.3 percent of African Americans compared to 10.4 percent of whites (Schmitt, Langan, Durose, 2002). The study concluded that because no information was collected on law-violating behavior, the differences reported could not be attributed to racial profiling.
Unrelated to law-violating behavior, allegations have been made in a study of more than six million car loans made by Ford Motor Credit Company from 1997 to 2001 that Latino buyers, regardless of credit history paid significantly higher interest rates than non Latino borrowers. Additionally, studies have shown that regardless of their income, minority homeowners are more likely than whites to get high interest loans when they refinance their mortgages.
Based on much of the literature, racial profiling does not help us fight crime. It does great damage to individuals, to the social fabric of the society, to the rule of law, and to the entire legal and criminal justice system.
The basic idea of the
criminal justice system in the
If the police believe that people of other races are more likely to commit crimes because of arrest statistics, and conviction rates, they may be more likely than not to investigate people of color more frequently. Many police believe that statistical data are good indicators in predicting who might be a criminal; therefore, we arrest, convict and jail more African American and Latinos.
The last several pages discussed racial profiling exclusively, and the injustices that lay therein. However, are the tactics used by law enforcement personnel illegal or is this just good police work? Let us now offer a different perspective.
“There is no credible evidence that racial profiling exists, yet the crusade to abolish it threatens a decade worth of crime fighting success” (MacDonald, 2001). The above statement would seem to be a very provocative one, especially in light of the number of articles written on racial profiling.
George W. Bush has joined
the anti-profiling campaign and contends that, “Racial profiling is wrong and
we will end it in
The ultimate question in
the racial profiling controversy is whether the disproportionate number of
African Americans and Latinos who go through the system, and the low number who
are employed as law enforcers reflect police racism as the consequences of
disproportionate minority crime. There
are two basic meanings of racial profiling.
Hard profiling uses race as the only factor in assessing criminal
suspicion. An example of this would be
an officer sees a person of color, and without more to go on, pulls that person
over for a search and pat-down on the mere chance that the person might be carrying
drugs or weapons. Soft profiling is
using race as one factor among many in determining criminal suspicion. An example of this might be a state trooper
who may have intelligence that young, Jamaican males, operating Jeep Grand
Cherokee vehicles with
Before delving into the racial profiling trap that many people would like to believe, let us take a closer look at the everyday demands of police work. Drugs, domestic violence, armed robberies and homicides are all crimes faced by law enforcement. Minorities complain that they are being targeted and are subject to disproportionate stops frisks and pat-downs. If they are, statistically, the ones committing the crimes, why is their involvement in criminal activity being questioned?
Random national surveys of
drivers on weekend nights in 1973, 1986 and 1996 found that African Americans
were more likely than whites to fail Breathalyzer tests. Blacks, in one
After terrorist’s attacks
Within the past five years, surveys conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (Schmitt .Langan, Durose, 2002) of the characteristics of drivers who have contact with police resulted in a few of their findings below.
1). Whites made up 76.7% of licensed drivers and 77% of drivers stopped by the police in 1999. African Americans were 9.8% of licensed drivers, but 11.6% of stopped drivers. Latinos accounted for 9.9% of licensed drivers and 8.4% of stopped drivers. Three and six tenths percent of persons were other races and were 3% of drivers stopped by police.
1a). Searches: Police were more likely to conduct a search of the vehicle and/or driver involving African American male drivers (15.9%) or Latino drivers (14.2%) compared to white male drivers (7.9%).
1b). Speeding: Statistics show that among all drivers stopped for speeding, African Americans (75.7) and Latinos (79.4) were more likely than whites (66.6%) to be ticketed.
The above statistics of racial profiling differences in traffic stops may not signal racial profiling. To form evidence of racial profiling, the survey would have to show (with all other things being equal):
1). That African Americans and/or Latinos were not more likely than whites to violate traffic laws.
2). That police pulled over African Americans and/or Latino at a higher rate than whites.
Because the survey contains only data on how often persons of different races are stopped, not data on how often they actually break traffic laws, analysis of data from the 1999 Police-Public Contact Survey cannot determine whether, or even to what extent, racial profiling exists (Schmitt et al., 2002).
The issue of racial profiling has become very problematic for law enforcement. For some aspiring politicians, the term “racial profiling” seems to have become a convenient political platform in that, sometimes, political promises are made to make racial profiling illegal. The basis of the problem lie here, how does one make illegal something that does not exist, as politicians have promised. Racial bias through discrimination and persecution can pollute the legitimate law enforcement practice of criminal profiling (Frederickson, 2002)
Do we believe that racial
bias exists in today’s society? As a participant
observer with an urban police department and Sheriff Newman as a former state
trooper and now Sheriff of
If and when a complaint is made against an officer for racial discrimination it should be dealt with appropriately and immediately. If dealt with appropriately, it will do two things. Firstly, it will send a message to the public and to the complainant that the agency deals with the complaints expeditiously and professionally. Secondly, by dealing with the complaint expeditiously, it sends a clear message to the officer and others that if the complaint is founded, disciplinary action, resulting in termination is almost certain.
Finally, is racial discrimination a serious problem? Perhaps it is less of a problem in some rural areas. My experiences as an anthropologist working with police have been that racial discrimination by police officers is more prevalent in larger urban communities. Police officers patrolling urban areas see African American males riding around listening to loud music, or gathered in groups often ask themselves, “What are they up to?” It is at this point that they should refer to the professionalism they claim to posses and the training that they and I as an anthropologist conducting field work have received.
If the accusation of racial profiling begins to control policing, public safety may suffer, and urban areas may be affected more often. Although it is imperative for police to protect the thousands of law abiding residents who live in urban areas, it cannot be done at the expense of innocent minorities. Violence many times may be precipitated by street level drug activity. Therefore controlling drugs in our society should start with other agencies of law enforcement. However, we are aware that controlling street level drug activity can only be controlled by police organizations.
Finally, if hiring criteria does not result in the more professional officer, if quality training is not provided on a regular basis, and if the supervision of the officer is weak, mistakes and complaints on the part of the officer will likely result Training is most important. The training must emphasize maintaining integrity to its highest degree as well as bias free law enforcement.
As the commanding officer observes officer work and examines disciplinary history related to racial bias, and this record show that the officer has a history of complaints involving racial bias, he/she should be a candidate for dismissal. Police administrators should be less tolerant of officers who are continually demonstrating bias.
Racial profiling, is it a fact that needs to be dealt with or simply complaints made by a few? One thing that is for certain, it is the responsibility of every law enforcement agency in the nation to monitor their respective departments as they provide protection, to assure citizen safety, and to make sure that racial profiling is not occurring within their agency.
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