clap clap blog: we have moved

Wednesday, June 18, 2003
The Justice Department has issued guidelines on racial profiling which say, basically, "Don't do it except for when it comes to terrorism and national security, which are apparently the same thing now, when you can do it sometimes. But not too much." The guidelines are non-binding.

It's a tricky subject to comment on for we lefties, since our (semi-understandable) kneejerk reaction is to say "Bush did it! It can't be good!" Still, I definitely don't agree with the ACLU spokesperson who said: "This policy acknowledges racial profiling as a national concern, but it does nothing to stop it...It's largely a rhetorical statement. The administration is trying to soften its image, but it's smoke and mirrors." Well, I dunno. For a JD with this bad of a record on civil liberties, this might almost be more effective than it would be (well, was) under Clinton or someone. Sure, it's non-binding, but eh. You want to try and push an anti-racial-profiling thing through Congress?

I can understand why your reaction to this might be something like "Prohibiting racial profiling except for terrorism investigations is like prohibiting drunk driving except for alcoholics." But forsooth, hold your ass on a second. Let's look closer. Let's look, instead, at where it does prohibit racial profiling: drug investigations and traffic stops. So maybe a better way to summarize the policy would be: no racial profiling for blacks, hispanics, and Asians, but for Arabs and Muslims, it's OK.

Of course this is a wee bit problematic, but then again, it's also non-binding, so it's hard to get that worked up about it. And I think almost everyone does support racial profiling in terrorism investigations, whether they know it or not: every time you say something like "They patted down my gran at the airport, does she look like a terrorist?" this implies, of course, that there is a certain type that looks like a terrorist, so let's at least be honest about that. There are lots and lots and lots of problems with the way we're currently pursuing anti-terrorist efforts, prime among them the fact that we seem to want to take our model from, gulp, Israel, but until someone comes up with a better model of enforcement than being extra-careful with young male Arabs traveling alone on a one-way ticket, we're going to have to go with that admittedly unjust strategem.

So sure, kind of an empty gesture, but also not exactly something worth criticizing--it's at least a reasonably positive empty gesture, and it gives us something to hold them to. Maybe it would even be worth opening a dialogue on what exactly the exceptions should be for terrorism. I think I believe Bush when he says this has been in the works for 2 years anyway--while there are Republicans that are racists, he's clearly not one of them--but it may be worth pointing out that the terrorism exception is probably a recent addition.