About three weeks ago, I wrote a letter to Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon concerning recently released statistics on racial profiling in Missouri. I pointed out to the state's top legal expert that racial profiling is a repugnant process that should not be tolerated. But I also pointed out that the statistics shed light on some effective law enforcement tools that the public should understand.
For example, Nixon released what appears to be a damning statistic concerning a disproportionate number of traffic stops and searches of minority motorists. On the surface, that practice alone is inappropriate. But I then asked Nixon what percentage of those minorities stopped and searched were eventually arrested for criminal violations. I was stunned. Of those searched, almost 75 percent were arrested. That appears to be very effective law enforcement to me.
Though racial profiling is a practice roundly condemned, Congress is now on the verge of considering random searches of airline passengers based at least partially on race. This issue has split the administration and Congress and it will likely be a topic of political debate for the upcoming November elections.
Some members of the Congressional aviation subcommittee want race to be one factor considered when airline passengers are singled out for extra screening. But the American Civil Liberties Union and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta are opposed to the process. This fundamental debate over the issue of race-based screening is just another step in the global war on terrorism. And it's an important debate.
In my opinion, the argument that makes the most sense is offered by George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley who argues in favor of using race as one of several criteria for screening. Turley points out that the al-Quida organization of terrorist has a limited pool of potential suicide bombers that is virtually exclusively Arab males. So why not consider that in making screening selections at airports?
Islamic groups don't have a multi-ethnic group of supporters. If they did then those involved in the Sept. 11 tragedy would have reflected that diversity. So given that fact doesn't it make sense to target those who we deem most likely as suspects?
It is not political correct to advocate racial profiling. Yet common sense and logic tells us you look first for the most likely suspects in any crime regardless of the nature.
Whether it's traffic stops in Missouri or extra screening at national airports, police must be given the tools to address those who would bring harm to others. Racial profiling - for all of its ugly elements - needs to be a part of that discussion.