Friday, September 25, 2009
A string of recent studies has documented significant racial disparities in police stops, searches, and arrests across the country. The issue of racial profiling, however, did not receive national attention until the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., at his home in Cambridge. This raises three questions: First, did Sergeant Crowley engage in racial profiling when he arrested Professor Gates? Second, why does it take the wrongful arrest of a respected member of an elite community to focus the attention of the country? Third, why is racial profiling so pervasive in American policing?
The answers to these questions are interconnected: they turn on the fact that racial profiling is just another form of statistical discrimination and that, today, we all embrace statistical discrimination as efficient and justified whenever there are group-based differences in behavior or fact disparities. We have all become, today, statistical discriminators.