Racial Profiling By Law Enforcement Agencies: Overview Essay

Racial profiling is a discriminatory practice in which law enforcement officials target people based on their national origin, ethnicity, religion, or individual race. This can also be referred to as ‘ethnic profiling. It is mostly called that in European countries. It is a method used by police officers to detect and prevent crime by adopting the racial identity to select their suspects and also to investigate them. (Zack, 2015).

For example, police officers could use the race of an individual to determine if they should stop a driver or not for an insignificant traffic violation. This is also referred to as ‘driving while brown or black.’ The officials could also use race to determine who to stop and search for illegal materials.

According to Risse and Zeckhauser (2004), Racial profiling can be defined as an action initiated by the police based on the national origin, race, or ethnicity and not just the attitude or behaviour of the individual. This act is really problematic because it is discriminatory and perpetuated by law enforcement officials.

Law enforcement officials are individuals that are in the position of policing authority for either public or private purposes. They include security agents at airports, police officers, departmental stores’ security guards, and airline pilots who give orders to passengers to alight from their flights because of their ethnicity, race, etc.

This act has gained attention since the 90s during some high-profile lawsuits. This was a result of vehicles have been stopped on the road, and on major highways and the law enforcement agents targeting blacks and Latinos.


Robert Staples, a sociologist, asserted that this act of discrimination is not just an assemblage of individual offences but rather a fundamental experience that spans the American society as far back as the time of slavery, and until the 1950s it was in some way, systemized into law.

Philadelphia’s court officials in 1693 gave the police the legal power to stop and arrest any black individual seen wandering about. Around the start of the mid-18th century, slaves were stopped at any location by slave patrols to ensure that they were in accordance with the law. The Black Codes, which is a set of statutes, was established in the mid-19th century in the south to get back control over former and freed slaves and to assign African Americans to a lower social status.

Effects of Profiling

Those who have not experienced this may not know the negative impact profiling has on society. It is more than an inconvenience, annoyance, or hassle as seen by some people; it has a huge negative effect on the people involved and on society. Those involved usually pay the price mentally, emotionally, psychologically, physically, or financially.

• Living in fear and crisis.

This brings about an overwhelming effect on the community, which leads to a sense of psychological imbalance and inner conflict in individuals. When the community is subject to Profiling, members of that community would be living in fear and crisis. Profiling brings about stereotypes of a particular community, and in the long run, these minority groups are forced to accept these negative stereotypes as true. This belief eats deep into them, and they see themselves as inferior to other ethnicities, races, religions, or national origins.

• Developing a diminished sense of citizenship

Profiling makes those concerned feel like they do not belong to a particular society because of their skin, colour, hair, race, religion, etc. It makes these individuals feel less equal to others in society. 

• Biases

Young children grow up to become biased. For instance, white people will often relate criminal activities with black people without realizing what they are doing. Children pick these stereotypes and prejudice as kids, and they grow up to have such bias mentality.

• Lack of trust in the key institutions

People will begin to mistrust key institutions in society. These institutions include the educational system, criminal justice, law enforcement, customs and border control, etc. These institutions are a foundation to order, democracy, and a peaceful society. Citizens are required to put their faith in these institutions and to cooperate and positively work with them to achieve and maximize success. For there to be a standing justice system, the citizens will have to put forth all their confidence in the fairness of the process and policy. The public’s confidence in these institutions because of Profiling. People have developed a mistrust of the educational system, law enforcement agents, customs officials, etc.

• Compromising the future.

Profiling limits the well being of individuals, and it makes it difficult for a specific group of people to attain specific positions in society. This attacks their confidence and self-esteem.

Awareness should be created by ensuring that law enforcement agents undergo intensive training focused on racial profiling and human rights. There should be reforms made to address the systems of policies and accountability. Law enforcement agencies should be made to understand the laws and policies that govern their conduct.

This discriminatory act led to several injuries, both physically and mentally. Individuals have had to endure long hours of standing under the rain or sun to be searched by law enforcement agents. Some suffered physical injuries from excessive and aggressive force utilized by the officials. This also affected the economy as those who have been profiled by stores or malls have decided to boycott those businesses. This could include being denied access to the stores, being searched, charged higher, or asked several rigorous questions, etc. This can result in a gradual decline in shopping by the individuals profiled, and they would, in the long run, prefer online shopping in order to avoid interactions with the shops physically. This brings about a negative impact on the economy

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