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The Problem of Racial Profiling—Why it Matters and What Can be Done About it

Why racial profiling is an important problem, why it's so difficult to address, and what can nonetheless be done about it.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The killing of African-American George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the resulting protests have called new attention to a longstanding issue with American law enforcement: widespread racial profiling. In this post, I would like to consider why racial profiling is a serious problem, why it's so hard to end, and what nonetheless can  be done to reduce it.

As I use the term, racial profiling denotes a situation where law enforcement officers treat members of one racial group worse than they would be treated in the same situation if they belonged to another group. If a police officer stops, searches, or arrests a black person when a white person in the same situation would be left alone, that's a case of racial profiling. By no means all cases of abusive police behavior qualify as racial profiling. As Jason Brennan and Chris Surprenant describe in a recent book, American police too often use excessive force in cases involving white officers and white suspects, where race, presumably, is not an issue. Even abuses involving minority civilians are not always a result of racial profiling. The wrongdoing officers may sometimes be "equal-opportunity" practitioners of police brutality, who would have done what they did regardless of the suspects' race.

Ending racial profiling would not end all abusive law enforcement behavior. It wouldn't even end all abuses where minorities are victims. But racial profiling is a serious problem nonetheless. It causes real suffering, it's unconstitutional, and it poisons relations between law enforcement and minority communities.

I. Why Racial Profiling Matters

Though racial profiling is far from the only flaw in American law enforcement, it is nonetheless widespread. A 2019 Pew Research Center poll found that 59% of black men and 31% of black women say they have been unfairly stopped by police because of their race. Their perceptions are backed by numerous studies – including many that control for other variables, including underlying crime rates—showing that police often treat blacks and Hispanics more harshly than similarly situated whites.

Almost every black male I know can recount experiences of racial profiling.  I readily admit they are not a representative sample. But as a law professor, my African-American acquaintances are disproportionately affluent and highly educated. Working-class blacks likely experience racial profiling even more often.

If you don't trust studies or survey data, consider the testimony of conservative Republican African-American Senator Tim Scott, who has movingly recounted multiple incidents in which he was racially profiled by Capitol police. Even being a powerful GOP politician is not enough for a black man to avoid profiling. Or consider the the experiences of right-of-center Notre Dame Law School Dean Marcus Cole. Scott and Cole are not easily dismissed as politically correct "snowflakes" who constantly see racism where none exists.

Most cases of racial profiling do not result in anyone being killed, injured, or even arrested. The police unfairly stop, question, or otherwise harass a minority-group member. But they then let him go, perhaps with a traffic ticket (if it was a vehicle stop). Conservatives are not wrong to point out that the average black person is far more likely to be killed or injured by an ordinary criminal than by a police officer.

But that doesn't mean that racial profiling is trivial or insignificant. Even if one isolated incident might qualify as such, it is painful and degrading if the people who are supposed to "protect and serve" you routinely treat you as a second-class citizen merely based on the color of your skin. And it gets worse if it isn't just about you, because your friends and family get the same treatment.

It is also painful and scary to know that, while racial profiling usually doesn't lead to injury or death, there is always a chance that such an incident could horrifically escalate. When a black man encounters a  cop, he often has to worry that the officer might kill or injure him even if he did nothing wrong. Such fear is far less common for whites.

Widespread racial profiling also  poisons relationships between police and minority communities. If you (with good reason) believe that cops routinely discriminate against your racial or ethnic group, you are less likely to cooperate with them, report crimes or otherwise presume they are acting in good faith. That creates obvious difficulties for both police and civilians.

Curbing racial profiling should be a priority for anyone—including many conservatives and libertarians—who believe government should be color-blind. I have long argued that anyone who holds such views—as I do myself—cannot  tolerate ad hoc exceptions for law enforcement.

If you truly believe that it is wrong for government to discriminate on the basis of race, you cannot ignore that principle when it comes to those government officials who carry badges and guns and have the power to kill and injure people. Otherwise, your position is blatantly inconsistent. Cynics will understandably suspect that your supposed opposition to discrimination only arise when whites are the victims, as in the case of affirmative action preferences in education.

Finally, you have special reason to condemn racial profiling if you are a constitutional originalist (as many conservatives are). Today, most cases under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment involve challenges to the constitutionality laws and regulations that discriminate on the basis of race, or are motivated by such discrimination. But the original meaning of the Clause was centrally focused on unequal enforcement of laws by state and local governments, including the police. That happens when authorities enforce laws against some racial or ethnic groups differently than others, treating some more harshly and others more leniently based on their group identity.

Racial profiling is a paradigmatic example of exactly that problem. Where it occurs, victims are denied equal protection because the very officials who are supposed to provide that protection instead treat them more harshly than members of other groups.

II. Why Racial Profiling is Hard to Combat

While racial profiling is a serious problem, it's also a very difficult one to curtail. One reason why is that it's often hard to detect. With many types of illegal discrimination, the perpetrators leave a record of their decision-making process that can then be assessed by investigators or used as the basis for a lawsuit. In many, perhaps most, racial profiling cases, the relevant decision was made on the fly by a single person, or a small group. There is no  record to refer to, and the officer can easily offer a benign explanation for his or her actions. Indeed, sometimes the officer himself won't know for sure whether he would have done the same thing if the race of the civilian involved was different. That makes racial profiling hard to address by using many of the traditional tools of anti-discriminitaion law, including lawsuits targeting specific discriminatory actions.

An additional problem is that racial profiling isn't always the result of bigotry, defined as hatred of a given minority group. Some officers really are awful bigots. But many, probably most, who engage in racial profiling are not. They are instead acting on the basis of what economists call "rational stereotyping." Police know that members of some racial or ethnic groups, particularly young black males, have relatively high crime rates compared to members of most other groups. In situations where  they have little other information to go on, police therefore view members of these groups with heightened suspicion, and as a result are more likely to stop them, search them, arrest them, or otherwise take aggressive action.

If the officers who profiled Senator Tim Scott had known he was a senator, they would likely have left him alone. But all they knew just from seeing him was that he was a black male, and that led them to believe he was statistically more likely to be a threat than a woman or a member of some other racial group might be.

Racial disparities in crime rates have a variety of causes, including a long history of racism, and flawed government policies of many types. But there is little the average cop on the beat can do to alleviate these causes. He or she instead may focus primarily on the resulting differences in crime rates.

The fact that such behavior is "rational" in the sense used by economists does not make it right. Rather, this is just one of a number of situations where rational decision-making by individuals can lead to a harmful systemic outcome. Racial profiling resulting (in part) from rational stereotyping may be efficient from the standpoint of individual officers trying to cope with uncertainty under pressure. But it harms innocent people, and poisons police-community relations in the long run.

But the fact that racial profiling may often be rational makes it more difficult to root out. Police, after all, are far from the only people who use rational stereotyping as a way to cope with limited information. People of all races and walks of life routinely do so in a wide range of contexts. If you come to a party where you don't know anyone, there is a good chance you will make snap judgments about who to try to talk to, and that those judgments may be influenced by stereotyping based on appearance, including race and gender.

Jesse Jackson, the first prominent African-American presidential candidate, once said  "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then (I) look around and see someone white and feel relieved." Jackson was relying on rational stereotyping: a white person (at least on that particular street) was statistically less likely to be a robber than an African-American.

The point here is not that rational stereotyping by Jackson or by a party-goer is the moral equivalent of racial profiling by police. Very far from it. The latter is far, far worse, because it causes vastly greater harm and injustice. Rather, these examples help us recognize that rational stereotyping is not confined to bigots, that it is very common human behavior, and that it is therefore very hard to avoid.

When we ask police officers to suppress their instincts and avoid racial profiling—as we should!—we are also asking them to exhibit a level of self-control that most of us often fall short of. The demand here goes well beyond simply asking them to avoid being bigoted thugs. It's asking them to refrain from using a decision-making heuristic that even otherwise well-intentioned people may often resort to.

III. What Can be Done.

While curbing racial profiling is difficult, it is not impossible. Many of the policy reforms that can curtail police abuses more generally will also indirectly reduce racial profiling. Abolishing or limiting qualified immunity can incentivize police to reduce abusive behavior of many kinds, including that which stems from profiling. Police who know they can be sued for wrongdoing are likely to be more careful about racial discrimination. Curtailing the War on Drugs and other laws criminalizing victimless offenses can eliminate many of those confrontations between police and civilians that are especially prone to racial bias. The same goes for curbing the power of police unions, which protect abusive officers of all types, including those who engage in racial discrimination.

If racial profiling is hard to detect, we can at least impose serious punishment in cases where it does get detected. If officers know that racial discrimination is likely to land them in hot water, they may try harder to avoid it, even if the chance of getting caught in any one incident is relatively low.

Perhaps the lowest-hanging fruit is getting rid of the policy under which the federal government explicitly permits the use of racial and ethnic profiling in the enforcement of immigration law in "border" areas (which are defined broadly enough to include locations where some two-thirds of the American population lives). This is by far the most extensive example of openly permitted racial discrimination in federal government policy. The Obama administration decided to let it  continue, and Trump has perpetuated it as well. If we are serious about ending racial discrimination in law enforcement, it needs to go.

Laws and incentives are important. But ending racial profiling—like other forms of invidious discrimination—also requires cultural change. Survey data indicate that most white police officers believe current law enforcement practices treat blacks fairly (though the same polls show most minority officers disagree). Many of these officers probably believe racial profiling is justified, or at least defensible under the circumstances police face on the job. That needs to change.

History shows that progress against prejudice and discrimination often depends on changing social norms, as much as on laws. When I was growing up in the 1980s, it was—in most places—socially acceptable to display open bigotry against gays and lesbians. People routinely used words such as "fag" and "homo" as insults—even in liberal Massachusetts (where I lived at the time). People who behave that way today would be socially stigmatized in most settings, even though such expressions remain legal. The stigma is one reason why such behavior is a lot less ubiquitous than it used to be.

Police work is one of the relatively few settings in which widespread racial discrimination—of a certain type—is still considered socially acceptable. If that changes, the behavior itself is likely to change, even if it remains difficult to challenge through formal legal processes. Consider what might happen if police officers known to engage in racial profiling were stigmatized by their peers or by respected authority figures in their communities. In that world, racial profiling would probably still exist; but it would likely be a good deal less common.

I don't have any brilliant suggestions for bringing about such a change in social norms. But history shows it can be done, and the issue is one that deserves more consideration by those with relevant expertise.

In sum, racial profiling is genuine problem that deserves to be taken seriously. There is no simple solution to it. We probably can't get rid of it entirely. But much can be done to make it less widespread than it is today.

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151 responses to “The Problem of Racial Profiling—Why it Matters and What Can be Done About it

  1. If a white person was spotted swallowing a vial of time activated deadly virus on video. I’d like to think the authorities would not be dumb enough to waste time testing everyone of every race when trying to catch the subject to appear to be not racist. If the term racism now extends to beliefs that that are rooted purely from valid logical or inductive reasoning than I’m perfectly okay with it.

    1. Your scenario of a particular crime having already been committed by an individual shows that you know we don’t use ‘valid logical or inductive reasoning’ when it implies collective guilt.

      1. You mean like the collective guilt of all Moslem for 9-11?

        Or is that somehow “different?”

        1. No, like the collective guilt of all whites for slavery, actually.

  2. It’s not a question of social acceptability of racism. It’s a fact that young black males are responsible for a hugely disproportionate number of violent crimes in the US. As a result, young black males, including innocent ones, also disproportionately stopped and questioned by police. This isn’t a question of racism or social norms, it’s the way the real world works.

    If you want to address this through changes in police behavior, there are only two options: either police fail to pursue some crimes by young black males, or police harass innocent people of other races just to get the statistics to even out. Both of these are obviously not solutions.

    People like you, Mr. Somin, are part of the problem of why blacks are making so little social progress in this country. You’re like a doctor who doesn’t want to tell a patient that he has cancer and needs chemotherapy and instead tells the patient that it’s a harmless rash; the result is that the patient gets worse and dies. You’re going through these logical contortions to make yourself feel good and you obviously don’t give a damn about the damage you are doing to the people you are pretending to help. You do know better, Mr. Somin, an you simply reason this way because you’re selfish and deplorable.

    1. It’s called “probable cause.”

      1. Yes, and if police only stop people based on probable cause, you still get much higher rates of innocent blacks stopped by police as long as the black crime rate is higher. That’s because most of time, even when the police have probable cause, the person they stop is still innocent.

        In fact, strengthening probable cause requirements will likely increase disparities.

        1. Brown skin is NOT probable cause — in any way, shape or form. Since we do not have a force of people with x-ray vision nor mind-reading abilities, the way we “fight” crime is NOT working and is disastrous to individual liberty.

          The drug war has FAILED and perverted justice.

    2. As I use the term, racial profiling denotes a situation where law enforcement officers treat members of one racial group worse than they would be treated in the same situation if they belonged to another group.

      No one here is talking about looking for someone when a particular crime is committed, but rather before a crime has been committed.

      Unless you want to argue that it’s good law enforcement to preemptively treat young black men as probably criminals due to probabilities. Which is very much not how we do things in America, where we judge people as individuals.

      Your final paragraph about tough love for blacks is…well, it’s pretty clear who is part of the problem. How do you feel about affirmative action, if you want racially motivated policies so much?

      1. Unless you want to argue that it’s good law enforcement to preemptively treat young black men as probably criminals due to probabilities.

        Before people get convicted, police need to identify and question suspects. The vast majority of those suspects end up being innocent. If the demographic of tall redheads commits disproportionately many crimes as other demographics, then witnesses will name tall redheads disproportionately often, and innocent tall redheads will be disproportionately treated as suspects by police. That’s not a prejudice; that’s not failing to treat people as individuals; it’s a simply unavoidable outcome of objective, non-racist, non-prejudiced police work.

        How do you feel about affirmative action, if you want racially motivated policies so much?

        Somin and you are advocating racially motivated policies, because racially motivated policies are the only way to achieve the outcomes you want.

        I strongly oppose racially motivated policies because they hurt the very people the claim to help. For example, affirmative action makes it harder for minorities (including myself) to get hired. Equal pay for equal work and minimum wage don’t just hurt minorities, they were intended to hurt minorities. That is what you are defending.

        Your final paragraph about tough love for blacks is…well, it’s pretty clear who is part of the problem.

        I’m not advocating anything; after all, African Americans overwhelmingly vote for these crappy policies themselves, and personally, I can hide my minority status so that I’m not actually hurt by affirmative action or equal pay laws.

        I’m simply laying out the facts: people like you and Somin are hurting the people you claim to help. The US won’t make progress on racial equality and social justice until people like you stop promoting racist and harmful policies.

        1. What do you think I’m arguing for here?

          I continue to think you don’t get the OP’s thesis.

          The motives a century ago for why something started don’t really have a lot to do if it’s good policy today. But we can go down that path later.

          There’s a name for what you are arguing about liberal policies actually doing the opposite of what everyone thinks: ‘false consciousness.’ It’s mostly a Marxist theory, but I’m seeing it pop up more and more on the right.

          1. I continue to think you don’t get the OP’s thesis.

            FIrst, let’s agree that racial profiling is an undesirable policy. Now, I am taking issue specifically with two of Somin’s central claims: (1) racial profiling is a widespread problem and (2) we can improve the situation of African Americans by investing more effort in ending it. Both of those claims are objectively wrong. He also throws in a lot of other points, some correct some incorrect, but we’re not debating those here.

            There’s a name for what you are arguing about liberal policies actually doing the opposite of what everyone thinks: ‘false consciousness.’ It’s mostly a Marxist theory, but I’m seeing it pop up more and more on the right

            “False consciousness” refers to people misperceiving their own social and economic situation. I don’t see how it is relevant here. I didn’t accuse Somin of suffering from false consciousness. Somin is a typical privileged white liberal intellectual engaging in self-serving virtue signaling; no false consciousness there at all.

            As for voters in general, black or otherwise, many of them are irrational, selfish, moved by rhetoric, and ill-informed, across the political spectrum; that’s been known for a long time. The difference between Marxists/progressives and conservatives/libertarians is that Marxists/progressives want to address the problem by putting philosopher kings in charge, while conservatives/libertarians want to address the problem by limiting the power of the state.

      2. Makes more sense to look for murders in wealthy white neighborhoods. After all, the streets are better lit, so you can see folks, and the crime is lower, so the risk to the police is lower.
        So cops who want to look for crime (and personal safety) should be putting in lots of overtime in the Hamptons…

  3. “When a black man encounters a cop, he often has to worry that the officer might kill or injure him even if he did nothing wrong”

    Not really though, because the odds of being killed by a cop are not only extremely low, but they’re also not too different based on your race. A black man is 2.5x more likely to be killed by a cop. While is disproportionately more, its not by a lot, relatively speaking, given the low chance of you getting killed in the first place.

    That’s my biggest peeve with the whole debate. Everyone agrees that most important important thing is building trust between cops and black communities. Police sometimes use overly aggressive tactics in policing, and that erodes trust. But trust is also eroded when you have groups like BLM try to convince black men that they have a high chance of being killed, when they don’t. They really don’t — and when you convince black people they do, you encourage them to be paranoid and distrustful of cops. And because distrust increases the chance of unpleasant encounters — and your distrust becomes self-justifying. It isn’t good. Please stop telling black men that they’re going to be lynched. Please, stop doing it.

    I’m not going to try to respond to everything else in the essay; some things I agree with, others I don’t. I think there are often situational biases in society depending on your race — some that may affect black men — and others that may affect white men. The second of which usually aren’t taken seriously, just like biases against men versus women aren’t taken seriously. Our academic and political discussions assume certain individuals have power and privilege based on the group they’re in. But its not necessarily the case. In any situation, for whatever situational biases black men deal with, all in all, I don’t think, that society is rigged against them, and its profoundly wrong to tell them so.

    Also a lot of the discussion about bias IMO really needs to be taken out of the classroom and into the real world. Theory and practice are often two different things, and they are here, too.

    What I mean by that is, for example — I’ve always thought Jesse Jackson was overstating his own biases, and a lot of people do the same thing when they talk about race. He’s saying what he’s saying because he’s giving a “classroom answer.” In real life, if he were to look around and see — for instance — a black businessman in a suit, or a black grandmother, or even a middle-aged black man, I doubt he would be worried — and on the other hand, if he saw a white skinhead with a swastika tattoo, I’m guessing he probably would be.

    I find most people don’t really have concrete racial biases on an individual-to-individual basis in real life. Dealing with individuals in real life is a take it as you come thing. But when people talk about race in academic discussions they far too often give “classroom answers.”

    I’m really sick of the classroom answers because they’re shallow, self-perpetuating, and incapable of understanding how bias operates in the real world.

    1. Going by Mapping Police Violence’s numbers 1000 people get killed by police a year which amounts to roughly 250 AA or 0.001% of total black deaths a year. Not the worst odds for something so awful it requires spreading covid all around and upending our entire society.

      1. This really is about the fact that 40% of likely Black voters say they intend to vote for Trump.

        1. Maybe that’s behind the push to get rid of the secret ballot, by moving everybody to absentee ballots?

    2. The 2.5x is relative to population. Relative to police contacts, violent crimes, or murders, blacks are actually underrepresented.

      The problem with racial inequalities in policing is caused by abnormally (absurdly) high crime rates amount young black males. The only way to fix it is to reduce those crime rates.

    3. Black communities distrusted cops long before the creation of BLM. I think you may have your cause and effect inverted.

      1. Black communities distrusted cops

        Most big cities are run by Democrats, people overwhelmingly elected by black communities. Obviously, their distrust of cops doesn’t seem to translate into voting.

  4. You Have Got To Be Kidding……..

    If a White man passed a fake $20 bill so shoddy that the ink was running, he wouldn’t be arrested? And if he resisted arrest, force wouldn’t be used?

    What alternate dimension of reality are you living in?

    And if a White guy was high as a kite???

    Again, what alternate dimension of reality?

    1. Yes, the problem, obviously so, is that the force continued to be applied after he passed out. And that would be objectionable no matter who it was done to.

      1. Yes, there are bad cops. What does that have to do with race?

        1. Nothing, really; In fact, outside isolated incidents, there’s no REAL evidence this is about race at all; Many of the cops blacks are complaining about are black themselves.

          1. Didn’t Somin link a bunch of studies?

            1. No. He links to a WaPo op-ed and a couple of anecdotal examples. No studies at all.

              The best study and most comprehensive data set I know is the Stanford Open Policing data. It fails to demonstrate any racial bias against blacks using Becker’s outcome test. Other attempts to tease any bias out of the data show at most a small bias in some jurisdictions against blacks (note that even those small biases may well have perfectly innocent explanations).

              Likewise, there is no evidence of racial bias against blacks in homicides by police.

  5. “When we ask police officers to suppress their instincts and avoid racial profiling . . . . ”

    Racism isn’t an instinct; it is taught.

    1. Humans are an intelligent species, we’re problem solving machines. It actually IS instinctive to use criteria that work, and so long as there are racial disparities in crime rates, racial disparities in policing are rational.

      You want the racial disparities in policing to go away? The only approach with a chance of working, is getting rid of the racial disparities in crime rates. Ideally NOT by bringing the white crime rate up.

      Got any ideas on how to do that? Because that’s where the real action is.

      1. That requires honest solutions, to real issues. But, the general idea is this.

        Get people working, get people jobs, that pay reasonably well, and start it all from a reasonably young age (late teens).

        Bring back manufacturing, and bring it to the US. Restrict the illegal immigration that suppresses wages, especially for poor minorities. Reform the schools, especially the poor performing schools, to enhance real life skills and have work training programs.

        1. I am not a fan of that cliche. Racism isn’t taught, So much as it is acquired through knowledge and life experiences.

      2. Using statistics to defend stereotyping.

        Nice. . .

        1. Using statistics to defend stereotyping.

          You misunderstand. Police aren’t questioning black suspects disproportionately because of stereotyping and statistical assumptions, they are questioning black suspects disproportionately because witnesses objectively identify suspects as black at a higher rate. There is no stereotyping involved.

  6. In all of this, I wonder why Ilya doesn’t bring up the major problem that gender profiling is, the disproportionate police focus on the male gender, and why men are so much more likely to be shot and killed by the police.

  7. Since racial profiling actually IS rational much of the time, just directly prohibiting it implies either, as NOYB2 points out, making law enforcement in majority black areas less effective, (Which harms blacks!) or irrationally harrassing whites to even out the statistics.

    What would solve this problem?

    1) Make sure police interactions aren’t abusive. If they’re not abusive, people have much, much less interest in avoiding them!

    2) Get rid of the racial disparities in crime, so that racial disparities in police stops won’t be rational anymore!

    Only the 1st really has anything to do with the cops.

    1. Since racial profiling actually IS rational much of the time

      I wasn’t even talking about racial profiling. I’m saying that even in the complete absence of any racial profiling, innocent blacks are still disproportionately going to be stopped and questioned by police because police don’t only stop guilty people.

      That’s a separate question from whether racial profiling in police work itself is rational, desirable, and possibly even beneficial for the target groups.

  8. Reading the comments puts me in mind of a behavioral study I read about years ago. The question studied was how people use experience to optimize choices. The method was simple. Two token dispensers with levers, one of which delivered reimbursable tokens with twice the frequency of the other, but neither of which was more likely than not to dispense a token. Subjects were asked to gather experience, and use it to devise the best strategy.

    The experimenters probably varied the situations and the analyses, but the big conclusion was that people who were trying to optimize their rewards usually did it wrong. As they learned more from experience, most started to converge toward a method of pulling the lever on the higher-reward box about twice as often as on the other box. In short, they proportioned their efforts to match perceived proportions among likely rewards. That was a mistake. The optimum strategy was to ignore the lower reward box, once the difference had been noted, and just pull the lever every time on the box most likely to deliver the reward. Not many subjects did that.

    An interesting twist in the study was that given the same situation, rats did much better than people. Rats efficiently learned to concentrate all their efforts on the higher-reward option.

    How does this apply to racial profiling? I suggest that given police knowledge of racial crime differences, and given a free hand on the basis of pure guesswork, the study suggests police acting like the more-efficient rats in the study would investigate only blacks. But police behaving as the less-efficient humans did, would sometimes investigate whites, but more often investigate blacks. Which is pretty much like what police seem to be doing.

    I suggest that tells us that in police practice there is far too much tolerance for guesswork. Maybe the right training would put more stringent emphasis on initiating suspicion on the basis of probable cause, instead of on the laxer standards which seem to apply.

    When the tactics you choose deliver results similar to the results from guesswork, and bad guesswork at that, improving guesswork skills will not help. In the context of racial profiling, better guesswork would prove catastrophic. Instead, train police what it means to stop guessing.

    1. I suggest that tells us that in police practice there is far too much tolerance for guesswork. Maybe the right training would put more stringent emphasis on initiating suspicion on the basis of probable cause, instead of on the laxer standards which seem to apply.

      And what makes you think they aren’t doing that? Police stop people who match the descriptions of suspects; given crime rates, those are going to be disproportionately black. Police also stop people who doing things other than use the street or sidewalks for getting from point A to point B; given disproportionate rates of truancy and youth unemployment, that too is going to be disproportionately young black males. Which of these actions would you like police to stop?

  9. There is nothing quite like a virtue-signaling ‘woke’ libertarian law professor.

    1. Really, commenter? You think we should treat blacks as more likely to be a suspect off the break, just based on statistics? Because despite what a lot of the commenters here say, profiling as defined in the OP is not about details of a specific perpetrator, but rather generalizations.

      Because that’s pretty unamerican, in my view. We are exceptional because we don’t do that – we treat everyone as an individual.

      1. “We are exceptional because we don’t do that – we treat everyone as an individual.”

        Reads like something I might have seen in a bubble in a Superman comic book from the fifties. Sounds good but isn’t anything like reality, and I’d say especially for your team. If any con on here were to say that you and yours would be all over them. “That’s the old ‘we should be color blind’ racist trope.” Progressives have been working overtime for years to create and favor or disfavor group identities. Young black males are an identity group wrt crime. Whether profiling them formally is abolished or not it will still exist.

        1. 1. You should not care what the left does in figuring out what you think is right.
          Indeed, if you are very much against AA, how can you be for profiling?!

          2. The reasoning behind AA is not about collective guilt.

          1. It’s not that I’m “for” profiling. I’m sure I wouldn’t like it if I were in a disfavored group being profiled but doesn’t change the reality. Until young black males become more like the rest of society in terms of crime statistics then they will be profiled.

            1. So it’s bad, but you don’t think we should bother to try and address it.
              And blacks are kinda asking for it.

              Oy.

              1. What do you mean “kinda asking for it.”? Do you deny that as a group they commit crimes at a disproportionate percentage to the rest of the population? It’s a fact and it’s a reason for the profiling. Also I’m not endorsing it. (See my response to bernard). I’m just saying that it’s inevitable until the stats are normalized. Jesse Jackson admitted that he profiles them. I’d say almost everyone does whether they want to or not.

                1. Until young black males become more like the rest of society in terms of crime statistics then they will be profiled.
                  This is some prime victim blaming. Locks in and accepts the problem quite well.

                  Who cares about group percentages? Guilt is individual; it is not based on what demographic group you’re part of.

                  Yeah, I stereotype as well. But I treat it like the vice it is – I make sure I don’t act on it, and I certainly recognize before I pretend it’s some kind of rational impulse!.

                  1. We are talking about profiling which is not the same as convicting someone of a crime. By the way I sort of remember your “sucks to be him” line in the Flynn posts. “Not what I would want the FBI to be doing but that’s what they do.” You’re in a group that gets profiled because of high crime stats, sucks to be you.

                    1. But shouldn’t the individualized nature of guilt flow down to an individualized nature of suspicion?

                      That is the law, BTW.

                      Flynn is not a good parallel for you. I’m talking about broad policy reforms here, as I was talking about there.
                      I don’t want the police to make a special exception for one black guy and not profile *them* but keep on keeping on with everyone else. That would be ridiculous and unjust.

                    2. But shouldn’t the individualized nature of guilt flow down to an individualized nature of suspicion? That is the law, BTW.

                      And it does. If 50% of violent crime perpetrators are described as a young African American male, then 50% of the suspects police questioned will fit that description. Since most of those suspects will turn out to be innocent, large numbers of innocent young African American males will be questioned.

                      Likewise, if the unemployment and truancy rate among African American males is twice the population rate (which it is) and reasonable community policing involves questioning people for truancy and vagrancy, African American males will be disproportionately represented.

                      These are not consequences of racial profiling or prejudice.

                    3. NOYB2, again, you are misreading the OP. It is not talking about disparate impact, but an actual double standard. No one here disagrees with what you’re arguing against!

                      Though I do have a quibble – If 50% of violent crime perpetrators are described as a young African American male
                      Police don’t just have a loop of ::attain description of suspect->Question people who match description->Determine guilt::
                      They oftentimes don’t have a suspect description. Or are doing a screening stop of some sort. Or are looking to roll up a network and don’t know where it starts.
                      It’s when you have incomplete data that the double standards comes in ’round up the usual suspects’ but the usual is just a class of persons. Not actually a great rout to justice.

                    4. NOYB2, again, you are misreading the OP. It is not talking about disparate impact, but an actual double standard.

                      Neither Somin nor you have provided any evidence that a double standard exists. The “double standard” you want to fight is a strawman.

                      Though I do have a quibble – If 50% of violent crime perpetrators are described as a young African American male
                      Police don’t just have a loop of ::attain description of suspect->Question people who match description->Determine guilt::

                      I gave that as a simple example to illustrate a statistical point, not as the exclusive m.o. of police.

                      They oftentimes don’t have a suspect description. Or are doing a screening stop of some sort.

                      Yes, and who are they going to stop? Unkempt looking men who hang out on street corners or walk through residential neighborhoods during working hours. And that population, statistically, is not representative of the US population as a whole.

                      We can run through example after example, but if you want to convince people that there is “widespread racial profiling” (Somin), you need to show actual evidence. What we observe right now is consistent with mostly racially unbiased policing.

      2. People ALWAYS operate off statistical generalizations until they have individualized data. It is literally unavoidable, the only question is whether you’re operating off inaccurate generalizations, or accurate ones.

        If you chose to operate off inaccurate generalizations, there’s a cost to that. Maybe it’s worth paying, but it doesn’t come free, and nobody should pretend it does.

        1. Whatever prejudices people have, that doesn’t mean society should embrace them.

          I thought America had long ago answered the problem about collective generalization. I think it’s a helluva thing to see libertarians advocating for a collectivist philosophy like this.

          1. I repeat: It is literally impossible not to act on generalizations when you are dealing with people you lack individualized information about. Maybe you have some moral reason to use an inaccurate generalization, (The presumption of innocence is a very valuable inaccurate generalization, for instance!) but what I object to is pretending that doing so is free.

            Using inaccurate generalizations always comes at a cost, and it’s a bad idea to ignore costs, as opposed to deciding they’re worth paying.

            Given that blacks have a much higher crime rate than whites, the only way you’re going to get comparable statistics on police behavior is either under policing black areas, or irrationally hassling whites. Both of which have serious costs.

            As I sad, I think we need to deal with this on two fronts: First, making sure that encounters with the police aren’t abusive, so that it stops being a big deal if there’s a disparity. And second, try to address the root cause of the disparity in police behavior: The disparate crime rate, rather than racism.

            IOW, the problem will go away if we solve the reasons blacks have a higher crime rate.

            1. I agree that steriotypes are part of humans’ pattern-finding nature. But you can recognize such a fallacious impulse and refuse to act on it, like any other.

              None of the rest of what you say has anything to do with profiling.

            2. Brett, it’s telling that you suppose that upping policing of whites would be irrational. How would you know until you tried?

              Almost all of us know that if identical standards were used by police to control drug trafficking and drug use everywhere, the center would not hold. Imagine ghetto drug enforcement standards imposed at colleges and universities everywhere. I get that the white middle class wouldn’t stand for it, but do you say that uproar would be rational?

              1. Nothing like introducing a little Cloward-Piven to make things right.

                1. Isn’t that an old and busted conspiracy theory?

              2. “How would you know until you tried?”

                Well, duh: Victimization surveys.

                I live in a middle class, mixed race neighborhood in a suburb of Greenville. The crime rate here is low enough that people don’t sweat closing their garage doors at night, children run around playing in safety. It would be irrational for us to have a heavy police presence, what would they be doing? Why would they be stopping anybody in a neighborhood where there’s virtually no crime?

          2. I thought America had long ago answered the problem about collective generalization. I think it’s a helluva thing to see libertarians advocating for a collectivist philosophy like this.

            I’m a libertarian and I’m not advocating a collectivist philosophy at all. In fact, I’m not advocating any policy. I’m laying out the facts for you: in the absence of a collectivist philosophy, under completely race-blind and unprejudiced policing, innocent, law-abiding African Americans will necessarily be disproportionately stopped, questioned, and arrested by police as long as crime rates among African Americans remain elevated to the rest of the population and as long as truancy, poverty, and unemployment remain elevated as well.

      3. Sarcastr0….This is mushy-headed, fuzzy logic being put out there by Professor Somin, who should frankly know better. Case in point…

        One reason why is that it’s often hard to detect. With many types of illegal discrimination, the perpetrators leave a record of their decision-making process that can then be assessed by investigators or used as the basis for a lawsuit. In many, perhaps most, racial profiling cases, the relevant decision was made on the fly by a single person, or a small group. There is no record to refer to, and the officer can easily offer a benign explanation for his or her actions. Indeed, sometimes the officer himself won’t know for sure whether he would have done the same thing if the race of the civilian involved was different.

        Hard to detect. Hard to define. Amorphous AF. No bright line. Subject to interpretation guided by changing, arbitrary standards. So we are going to criminalize conduct based on ‘how it looks and feelz’ today? How’s that look and feelz a year from now…the same? No thanks. That way leads to suppression and tyranny.

        If there are anti-discrimination laws on the books, enforce them. I support that 1000%.

        1. I had this concern, but I found this language to properly cabin this issue:
          As I use the term, racial profiling denotes a situation where law enforcement officers treat members of one racial group worse than they would be treated in the same situation if they belonged to another group. If a police officer stops, searches, or arrests a black person when a white person in the same situation would be left alone, that’s a case of racial profiling.

          Not that a lot of the commenters seem to be reading that…

          1. In the words of my attorney: Prove it.

            That is the nub of the problem here. Completely subjective.

            Maybe we are not asking the right questions that would lead to solutions that can objectively administered and measured.

            1. Prove what – that police have disparate standards?

              We have a pretty robust body of law about figuring out disparate impact versus intentional double-standards.

              But the issue being discussed in the comments here seems less about the problem of evidence and more about the baseline advisability of such policies.

              What do you think? Is profiling, as defined by the OP, a good policy? There are some arguments it is, though ones I think easily addressed with both policy and moral concerns.

              1. No Sarcastr0, prove there was racial profiling. You can’t, short of some dolt just coming out and saying, “Yes, I stopped that black/hispanic guy only because they were not white”. Seriously, how do you stop that. You can’t.

                But to answer you directly. I don’t have a problem with profiling, so long as there is some rational basis for it. Case in point. If I am a TSA employee, and I see a sweaty, nervous looking arab guy fingering his worry beads and mumbling ‘allah ahkbar’, I am probably going to profile this guy as a potential terrorist.

                Is profiling a good policy? It certainly can be.

                The better question to ask is what I said below.

                1. Civil rights litigation deals with this exact issue, Commenter. It is not my area of expertise, but it is all about proving a pattern, and from there proving it was intentional. It’s not easy, but they do it.

                  I think the disconnect here is you’re thinking about individual actions; I’m talking about a broad policy. Though I think (don’t quote me on this) that some juries have found sufficient individual actions add up to a sufficient circumstantial case of intentional discrimination.

                  I think profiling should be flat banned, and enforced as a civil rights violation with the same standard of proof. Note that my definition is the double standard one Prof. Somin’s, not the ‘if the description of the suspect is black it would be profiling to look for black guys.’ That’s a strawman no one advocates for.

                  1. Sarcastr0….Ok, but we have anti-discrimination laws on the books. I am all for enforcing them. What Professor Somin is putting out regarding racial profiling is just not addressable by objective criteria, and the data don’t support his premise. It just doesn’t.

                    Look, we agree that there are race issues in this country. I see this with my South American born wife. I do not deny that. Over a drink, I would love to tell you some great stories on how things change for my wife when a Jewish husband in a suit comes waltzing through the door. It is real.

                    Whatever race problems we have, it isn’t from police rampantly racially profiling.

              2. Is profiling, as defined by the OP, a good policy?

                There is no evidence that racial disparities in the interactions between police and young black males are the result of racial profiling. None.

                1. Plenty of studies about traffic stops. Plenty of whistleblowers as well.

                  Maybe it’s not everywhere, but it’s going on some places. You’re being willfully blind.

                  1. Plenty of studies about traffic stops

                    The best study I know is OpenPolicing. It disproves your idea that there is widespread racial bias in policing. It finds either no bias against African Americans, or only a small bias in some jurisdictions (that may have rational causes).

                    Of course, data on police killings shows that police are less likely to kill African Americans than whites.

                    Do you have any other data to share?

                    Maybe it’s not everywhere, but it’s going on some places.

                    Since racial disparities in police interactions are universal but racial bias by your own admission (and by the Stanford data) at worst exists in “some places”, it follows logically that racial bias cannot be the primary cause of massive racial disparities in police interactions.

      4. You think we should treat blacks as more likely to be a suspect off the break, just based on statistics?

        Not at all. I’m saying that objective, race-blind, non-prejudiced law enforcement without any racial profiling necessarily results in disproportionately high rates of police contacts with innocent black males. That’s a simple fact. No amount of virtue signaling or denial is going to change that fact.

        1. OK, then. Even BLM allows that this is the case.

          It is also not what the OP is talking about.

          1. It is also not what the OP is talking about.

            Somin claims that racial profiling by police is “routine”. That claim is not just unsubstantiated, it is contradicted by statistics. The racial disparities that exist in policing can be explained by differences in crime statistics and demographics.

    2. It’s getting pretty insane.

      They want to “dismantle” the Minneapolis PD. And replace it with a “police-free” society.

      Which really means you’ll be paying professional security (for the rich) and gangs (for the poor) for your protection.

      1. Which becomes perfectly understandable once you understand that BLM made the mistake of not excluding gang members, and got taken over by those gangs.

        1. got taken over by those gangs

          Yeah, nothing but lawless blacks.

          Where did you pull this one from?

          1. I pulled it from watching their behavior at Bernie Sanders events.

            You have another explanation for BLM acting like thugs, besides the organization being taken over by thugs? You want to assert that this is the way law abiding people behave?

            1. What you link to is not gang behavior.

              I don’t need an explanation for BLM acting like activists. Activists are pretty annoying and sometimes disruptive. And yes, sometimes activists disobey the law.
              But invoking gangs for that is leaning on some pretty rough tropes.

              1. BLM are not acting like “activists”; I was a freaking activist most of my life, until I got married and had other things to do with my time, and never behaved like that, never saw anybody around me behaving like that. Because I was a Libertarian/right-wing activist.

                *Maybe* that’s how left wing ‘activists’ behave, but if so, shame on them. You don’t stop being a thug when you act thugishly just because you call yourself an “activist”.

                1. I disagree with your definition of activist. Libertarian-style is not the only style. And you may hate this kind of disruption, but it’s effective (though the looting hasn’t helped, I grant you).

                  People called the nonviolent movement of MLK a movement of violent provocateurs back in the day as well. I would avoid echoing those people; history has not treated them kindly.

                  Certainly, your complaining has moved beyond ‘it’s gang members,’ to arguing about decorum, so maybe don’t lean on that tripe.

                  1. “Libertarian-style is not the only style”

                    Yeah, there’s also thugish style.

                    1. Echoing the rhetoric of 1965 is not a good look.

                  2. People called the nonviolent movement of MLK a movement of violent provocateurs back in the day as well.

                    Yeah, and look what it gave African Americans: a destruction of the black family, economic stagnation, and massive crime rates among young black males. A Pyrrhic victory.

                    And you may hate this kind of disruption, but it’s effective (though the looting hasn’t helped, I grant you).

                    Oh, it certainly is going to be effective. The next stops on this predictable historical path are Detroit, then Venezuela. You’re getting what you ask for, good and hard.

      2. AL – I was also concerned by that; and still am, to a point.
        But there’s a history between the city counsel and Minneapolis PD. This does not come from nowhere.

        Look it up.

        1. I don’t particularly care that “there’s a history”. What I care about it saving lives.

          What happened to Floyd was a tragedy. But responding to it by “dismantling the police” would give the gangs free reign over Minneapolis. You’ll see dozens, if not hundred of more deaths from gang violence, mostly probably poor minority deaths.

          It is cutting off your nose to spite your face, and it is sheer idiocy.

          1. You’ll see dozens, if not hundred of more deaths from gang violence, mostly probably poor minority deaths.

            I’m not sure this is true. I don’t think this disbanding is what you think it is – it’s not no longer having law enforcement, it’s just no longer having this law enforcement. They’ve tried to reform them a lot over the past decade, and it’s pretty clearly failed.

            1. “I’m not sure this is true”

              I am sure. There is statistical evidence. They have studied these “viral” incidents with police abuse. And the results are staggering. Each of these “viral incidents” (and really the media response to them) ends up causing almost 180 excess homicides and more than 6,000 excess felonies. And now you’re talking about “disbanding….”

              https://www.nber.org/papers/w27324

              People are gonna die. Lots of people. Floyd was a tragedy. The media/BLM response…will end up killing hundreds.

  10. If redheads are 10% of the population and commit 50% of violent crime, would it be allowable to look at redheads with more suspicion than brunettes who are 50% of the population and commit 10% of the violent crimes?

    1. That’s Irish-racism!

      /S

    2. This comment will be beaten like a red-headed step-child.

    3. Whether prejudice itself is rational is a separate debate, but this debate isn’t about prejudice.

      If redheads commit 50% of the violent crime, 50% of suspects will be redheads, not because of prejudice, but because of objective witness identifications. Since many of those suspects will turn out to be innocent, even innocent redheads will be suspects at a much higher rate.

      There are other non-prejudicial effects linked to neighborhoods, unemployment rates, etc. that all result in disparate outcomes even in the complete absence of prejudice or racial profiling. For example, I used to live in a high crime minority neighborhood and I got stopped frequently by police. The trigger wasn’t skin color, it was location.

  11. “Indeed, sometimes the officer himself won’t know for sure whether he would have done the same thing if the race of the civilian involved was different.”

    How exactly do you make policy against something a person does not even know they are doing, and has other rational explanations?

    1. Mickey, that’s simple. You require the person to make decisions on an entirely different basis than his own inevitably unreliable rationalism. Substitute instead observable evidence, of a kind which can be checked afterward. The key to fixing racial profiling by police is to narrow their scope for action, to exclude totally the use of non-evidentiary motives to justify enforcement action.

      1. The key to fixing racial profiling by police is to narrow their scope for action, to exclude totally the use of non-evidentiary motives to justify enforcement action.

        You can do that. It will do next to nothing to reduce racial disparities in policing because racial profiling accounts for only a small amount of racial disparities. But it will hamstring policing. If it doesn’t affect you, you may think that’s a tradeoff worth making. How about the minorities actually living in crime-infested minority neighborhoods? They actually vote every few years for local government, including local police. Why do you assume that they want this?

  12. Like your last post, good points. And once again, the flood of comments is “black people have only themselves to blame”.

    1. A bit more nuanced than that. Maybe we are asking the wrong question. Consider these two questions. Which question is capable of being addressed in an objective manner?

      How do we combat ‘systemic racism’ in the police force?
      How do we stop police from abusing citizenry during an interaction?

      You tell me.

      1. XY, one answer fixes both problems. Require enforcement action to be based on falsifiable evidence.

        Want cops to cooperate with body cams? Make it clear that, “I saw him reach toward his waistband,” is inadmissible as defensive evidence.

        1. I think mandatory body cams and elimination of QI are good policies. But they will have no effect on racial disparities in policing because the cause of those racial disparities is not police misconduct or prejudice in the first place.

        2. lathrop, I think my point is the ‘problem’ that Professor Somin is trying to solve is not really a problem that is solvable by objective criteria. How do you ‘prove’ racial profiling? You don’t.

          To me the better question to ask (and you partly answered it, to your credit): How do we stop abusive police conduct during interactions with citizens? That to me is what we are trying to address. That takes race out of the equation.

    2. “black people have only themselves to blame”.

      No, not at all. The people to blame for the plight of African Americans are clearly the progressive movement and people like Somin. And that’s nothing new: a century ago, they imposed eugenics and segregation. These days, they have a whole new set of destructive messages and policies.

      1. What Somin is talking about and what you are talking about are two different things.

        Somin is not talking about disparate impact. That’s all you want to talk about. Read the OP again.

        And the throughline to eugenics is quite a stretch.

        1. Somin claims that there is (and I quote) “a longstanding issue with American law enforcement: widespread racial profiling.” He provides no evidence for this claim. He is simply echoing a progressive social justice talking point.

          And the policy consequences from his misdiagnosis of the problem are disastrous. You’d think that would be obvious to everybody from decades of mismanagement of urban ghettos by Democrats, but obviously it’s not to white privileged academics who don’t have to live with those consequences.

          1. Your counterargument is taking out a strawman, however.

            If you want to argue ‘prove that racial profiling is happening’ then do so. But know what racial profiling is; it is not just arresting more black people.
            As I use the term, racial profiling denotes a situation where law enforcement officers treat members of one racial group worse than they would be treated in the same situation if they belonged to another group. If a police officer stops, searches, or arrests a black person when a white person in the same situation would be left alone, that’s a case of racial profiling.

            The OP is a policy question; he doesn’t need evidence (though if you look there is plenty, albeit localized).

            Do you think the thing in italics is a good policy or a bad one? Because opinions on this thread are split on that issue.

            1. Do you think the thing in italics is a good policy or a bad one? Because opinions on this thread are split on that issue.

              I think we all agree that police departments shouldn’t adopt racial profiling as a policy. Can you point to any departments that have a documented, official policy of doing so? Didn’t think so. So, at most, racial profiling is individual misconduct.

              Somin’s claim that racial profiling is “widespread” is even more ridiculous as a policy claim than as a statistical claim.

              1. Plenty of whistleblowers say it’s not individual misconduct. Plenty of consent decrees from the Obama era admit it.

                There are studies indicating it’s pretty common liked in the OP. As in, a double-standard based on race.

                And there are those on this comment thread saying it’s fine if it’s proven to be effective at lowering crime rates. Which is pretty screwed up IMO. And it looks like you agree with me on that point, which is always nice to see.

                1. There are studies indicating it’s pretty common liked in the OP. As in, a double-standard based on race.

                  An op-ed by Radley Balko in WaPo? Are you serious?

                  Plenty of whistleblowers say it’s not individual misconduct. Plenty of consent decrees from the Obama era admit it.

                  We agree that there exists some level of racial profiling. But the protests that Somin refers to argue that this is a major cause of racial disparities in policing. He hasn’t just failed to show it, it’s inconsistent with the data.

                  And there are those on this comment thread saying it’s fine if it’s proven to be effective at lowering crime rates. Which is pretty screwed up IMO. And it looks like you agree with me on that point, which is always nice to see.

                  My personal preferences have nothing to do with it. I think it is something local communities need to decide for themselves. If a predominantly African American town doesn’t want its truant teenagers stopped and questioned by local police, that’s their choice to make, but they probably need to find other ways of dealing with their crime problem. But those choices have consequences, too, like self-segregation, falling property values, and higher insurance rates.

                  And while there is a political choice for policing, there is no choice in private interactions. The high crime rate of young black males, together with many other legal, social, and demographic factors, necessarily result in young black males being treated differently in jobs, housing, education, and other environments. You can scream at the sky all you want about how unfair it is, the only solution is for the affected people to roll up their sleeves and fix it themselves.

  13. I’d note that the problem is even harder to fix than you suggest. Studies like the excellent Stanford study on police stops suggest that black cops are also subject to similar biases. This strongly suggests a semi-unconcious causal pathway.

    I think the only answer is to completely and totally bar pretextual stops or investigative conversations of all kinds without individualized suspicion.

    Ohh and to all those attacking the use of rational here please keep context in mind. It obviously wasn’t meant to suggest that it is rational in sense of best move to maximize social welfare or even minimizing crime.

    Moreover, the rational response need not be proportional to the difference in rates. For instance, suppose that you’re a police officer who has time to stop 30 speeders a day (and speeders are very common) but you’d like to maximize chances you also catch someone who has contraband in view. Now suppose 1% of non-red cars stopped for speeding have contraband in view and 1.0000001% of red cars do. You optimize expected amount of contraband stoped by only stopping red cars (assuming speeders are so plentiful you don’t waist time waiting for a red speeder).

    Not claiming this is the reason for bias in stops especially given studies showing different treatment but it’s harder to dismiss than one might think.

  14. Is it really that difficult to make racial profiling a capital offense?

  15. The question being asked, badly; is why do stereotypes exist? Is there some reason greater than chance, they are correct? If not, then we would have a problem but, the stereotype wouldn’t take root. Are flamboyant men who prance around with a high-pitched voice more likely to be gay? If not, the stereotype would not have become a common-place observation.

    1. Stereotypes are bad; they confuse statistical truth about groups for specific truths about individuals.

      Moreover, having society operate on stereotypes is different than allowing individuals to privately use them.

      1. Stereotypes are bad;

        Stereotypes are a form of intelligence.

        What is bad is misuse of stereotypes, such as presuming that the stereotype tells you information about an individual person.

        1. I think our problem here is one of semantics. I see stereotypes as seeing a certain indicator in an individual and using probability to make an assumption about 100% of the individual.

          We all do that to an extent. But in a country that raises up individuals like ours, acting on it is not something we should embrace.

        2. Sarc, as a practical matter, people don’t really have or act on a belief that “100% of this group share characteristic X”. That’s just not how social science shows people behaving. People frequently act on “someone in this group is more likely to share characteristic X”, and it turns out that people are decently good at making those kind of tentative, quick judgments and then adapting as circumstances show if it’s wrong. Read Blink. We all rely on those kind of judgments constantly. (That’s not to say such judgment are always right, and figuring out when those judgments are bad is an important part of growth and learning.)

          1. I was thinking a bit about that as I wrote. I don’t know if people do well with ‘likely criminal.’ That’ll tend to be put into the criminal box.

            Human nature’s risk analysis doesn’t have a lot of nuance.

            I don’t like Malcolm Gladwell much, but humans adapting quickly if it’s wrong – that I’ll grant you. But some of the decisions we’re dealing with here are irrevocable. Especially since we’re dealing with decision making bodies.

            Stereotypes may indeed be a degenerate part of our larger decision-making apparatus. But they don’t work in a heterogeneous, modern, small-l-liberal society. We should work to curb that impulse in this area, just as we do with other largely no longer suitable impulses, like jealousy and gluttony.

      2. Stereotypes aren’t bad unless inaccurate. Using them once you have individual information, and thinking that they free you from the need to get such information, that’s what is bad. But people aren’t omniscient, we can’t enter every transaction with other people already knowing what we need to know, but we still need to make decisions.

        “Stereotype accuracy” is actually one of the strongest results in social science: Most stereotypes are accurate, and are abandoned as soon as somebody has individual information to operate on; Most people treat stereotypes exactly as they should!

        1. As I see it, stereotypes are by definition inaccurate, since you’re taking a probability and turning it into an essentiality.

          Are you calling for policies that treat any given black as presumed more criminal based on probabilities? Like actual different standards of probable cause, reasonable suspicion, etc?

          1. No, I’m calling for policies that might eventually make it untrue, rather than concentrating on finding some way to keep people from acting on accurate generalizations.

            1. I think we can both work on policies to deal with racial disparities AND work to make racial double-standards disincentivized, AND finding areas where it is the tacit policy and rooting them out.

              1. Unfortunately, you’re wrong. Government policies intended to suppress disparities through government action actually tend to perpetuate and increase them.

      3. I encourage you to go into the wilderness and start feeding the bears. You shouldn’t let your stereotypes of bears being dangerous to humans influence your actions. There are certainly very gentle bears out there who can be fed with no danger at all.

        1. Blacks are not animals, you racist asshat.

      4. Stereotypes are bad; they confuse statistical truth about groups for specific truths about individuals.

        Correct. But racial disparities in policing are not the result of stereotyping, the are the result of rational consequences of statistical differences in crime rates.

        That is, police don’t generally say “we need to question young black males at higher rates because they are more likely to commit crimes”, they say “we need to question this person because he fits the description of a suspect”.

        1. Again, you fundamentally mistake what the OP is talking about.

          Prof. Somin specifically said he’s talking about double standards – i.e. the scenario in your last paragraph that you say doesn’t happen. Bad news: It does happen.

          1. Prof. Somin specifically said he’s talking about double standards – i.e. the scenario in your last paragraph that you say doesn’t happen. Bad news: It does happen.

            I didn’t say it “doesn’t happen”, I said it “doesn’t generally happen”. Somin’s claim isn’t just that it happens, his claim is that it is “widespread” and a “serious problem”, and that it isn’t.

            Racial disparities in policing are overwhelmingly due to differences in crime rates. There clearly is some component of racial profiling and prejudice as well.

            Now, what should we do about that? Reducing racial profiling by police isn’t going to reduce the disparities significantly because it’s not the primary cause. But it is going to make removing criminals from neighborhoods much harder and will cause crime rates to go up.

            So, the choices are: (1) reduce racial profiling, increase crime and increase disparities, (2) tolerate some racial profiling, decrease crime, and decrease disparities. What you and Somin think you want, simultaneously reducing racial profiling and disparities is not an available choice.

            1. Their perceptions are backed by numerous studies – including many that control for other variables, including underlying crime rates—showing that police often treat blacks and Hispanics more harshly than similarly situated whites.

              So these studies control for the disparate baseline crime rate you keep going on about.

              Read. The. OP. Your objections so far have been all strawmen.

              1. Read. The. OP. Your objections so far have been all strawmen. So these studies control for the disparate baseline crime rate you keep going on about.

                Most of the data in the OP’s reference doesn’t even correct for baseline crime rates, let alone other population differences. The only thing that article does is call into question the sincerity of anybody who cites it as evidence.

                OTOH, you have failed to even acknowledge the existence of the Stanford data, which shows significant disparities between Hispanics and whites but at most minor disparities between blacks and whites.

  16. Abolishing qualified immunity? Really?!! I thought that racial discrimination is a plain and clear violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and that anyone caught engaging in it would lose the affirmative defense of qualified immunity. And that the real problem in such cases is proving that someone engaged in racial profiling. A problem that would still be there even if you eliminated the affirmative defense of qualified immunity.

    So . . . are you sure that you’re not using an unpopular policy (racially profiling) and a politically correct position (ending racial profiling) to support a separate policy or legal position (ending qualified immunity) that you oppose for different, perhaps quite legitimate, reasons?

  17. The problem is not rational racial profiling, which makes sense. The problem is brutality.

    When you see a white guy scanning the scene in a black neighborhood, your profile probably suggests that the guy is interested in some criminal intent. That’s rational racial profiling.

  18. “A 2019 Pew Research Center poll found that 59% of black men and 31% of black women say they have been unfairly stopped by police because of their race.”

    So many problems with considering this a usable, actionable, metric. You’re using a subjective response to “prove” that there’s an objective problem, which is a popular logical fallacy. And that doesn’t even get into the ever-shifting definition of “unfair”.
    This is only useful in showing that there’s a *perception* of racial profiling in a minority of the Black community. Nothing more.

    1. Indeed, asking people if their contact with the police was unfair is unlikely to generate a fair tabulation of unfair police treatment.

    2. How can we verify that blacks perceptions are not significantly distorted by their own preconceptions that police stop blacks for no reason? I’ve been stopped unfairly, it wasn’t because I am black.

      If you ask most white people they will say they are not prejudiced., but in large parts of the country whites rarely interact with blacks.

      I live in New Orleans and see blacks everywhere every day. When I travel outside the south I always wonder where all the black people are. I had that conversation with a black coworker and she said she thought only blacks noticed that.

      I think there is a lot of misperception going around for a lot of reasons some rational, some irrational.

  19. So what if profiling is “efficient,” or “rational?”

    These are not the only priorities of law enforcement. Justice is another.

    We don’t allow lots of things that might reduce crime. Warrantless searches, not letting suspects call a lawyer, etc. We require very high standards of proof in criminal trials (at least in principle).

    So the efficiency argument is not all that compelling.

    1. You need to know the cost of abolishing it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t abandon it, but it should be an informed choice, not, “Oh, everything will be sweetness and light if we do it” stupidity.

      I don’t want to see profiling abolished, and then if the crime rate skyrockets in these neighborhoods that gets blamed on racism, and not the policies that were demanded in the name of fighting racism!

      1. Bernard is making a moral argument; that short-circuits your utilitarian argument until you address it. Unless you want to argue the cost-benefits of the Second Amendment every time you bring up gun policy.

    2. This is an issue for sure and like a lot of things it depends on circumstances. If for example you are a middle eastern male or female going through airport security in the US you will be profiled. (They don’t admit it but they do it.) You won’t like it but it will just cost you a few extra minutes. If the profiling puts you in a situation where you are more likely to be accused of a crime you didn’t commit then that’s very different. In the latter case it does happen to innocent young black males and that makes a case for it being wrong. But even if it is explicitly abolished as PD policy it is still going to happen. Nothing will stop it until they move out of the group with bad crime stats.

      1. it will just cost you a few extra minutes
        Separate but nearly equal!

        Nothing will stop it until they move out of the group with bad crime stats.
        ‘This is not a problem we can end, so why should we try’ is not acknowledging reality; it’s giving yourself license.

    3. That is assuming racial profiling is unjust. You’re making the assumption that it reduces crime, and the article says the effects on the profiled are minor. With those two assumptions, you have to ask yourself if you consider the affect on the minority unjust compared to the benefit to the majority. That is to say, does your definition of justice have room for the idea that you can act based on (some sort of) reasonable suspicion, and be wrong sometimes, but not have done something unjust?

      1. Reasonable suspicion is less than probable cause, but more than an “inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or ‘hunch'”; it must be based on “specific and articulable facts”, “taken together with rational inferences from those facts”, and the suspicion must be associated with the specific individual.

        Is there any part of that you disagree with?

        1. Yes. I think it can sometimes still be morally just to suspect someone even if the suspicion is not ” associated with the specific individual.” It can also be morally just to suspect someone based off inarticulable facts, depending on the situation.

          1. It is hard to argue moral precepts, but I’m pretty Kantian. I don’t like utilitarian arguments that impose on the individual. (In other words, I’d not pull the lever in the trolley problem).
            (I’m assuming your moral justifications are utility-based, but I could be wrong.)

            Luckily for me, our justice system disagrees with you and agrees with me. I have lots of problems with our criminal procedure enterprise, but this is not one of them.

            1. Sarcastr0….My heart is ‘Kantian’ but my head is ‘Hobbesian’. 🙂

            2. It is hard to argue moral precepts, but I’m pretty Kantian.

              I think you engage in motivated reasoning, switching between utilitarian and value-based arguments as it serves your interests.

              But at the core of it all seems to be “the law/society/someone else should fix this”, as opposed to “what can I do to improve my personal situation”.

    4. These are not the only priorities of law enforcement. Justice is another. So the efficiency argument is not all that compelling.

      I agree: policing involves tradeoffs. But right now, state and federal tax payers need to foot the bill for the non-utilitarian choices of progressive urban governments, and that is not acceptable from a moral or justice point of view.

  20. “A 2019 Pew Research Center poll found that 59% of black men and 31% of black women say they have been unfairly stopped by police because of their race.”

    Why would you think that’s a good measure? People constantly claim “I wasn’t doin’ nothin'” when they clearly were. People constantly claim “so-and-so is a good person, they never would do that” when they clearly did.

    1. Anyone who’s ever been stopped by police claims they were stopped ‘unfairly’: “Sure, I was speeding, but the cops didn’t stop the three cars who passed me in the last 10 minutes, and they were going even faster than I was!”

  21. George Floyd wasn’t racially profiled. The cops were called specifically regarding him, and the shop owner where he passed the counterfeit bill pointed him out to the police.

    1. Well, Palupemb, that covers it right up to the moment they got the handcuffs on him. Afterward? Not so much.

      1. And after they got the cuffs on him? Where was the racial profiling?

  22. Maybe if Blacks stopped committing so many crimes, they’d find that cops would cease stereotyping them.

  23. Does this mean retail stores can no longer use additional theft prevention methods in black areas, or do they have to install them in white areas, too, even though most of the thefts occur in the black areas?

  24. So how do you come up with a definition of racial profiling that recognizes that race is a useful descriptor when searching for either a specific individual or at the least a described suspect? I routinely explained to people when conducting an interview to complete a composite that each question helps eliminate…sex, 50%, race, anywhere from 50% to even more. It is absurd currently that the media never describes an offender beyond “a male” when a suspect is sought. The idea is to limit the search to a useful sample, not all of the population! Yes, revise laws to eliminate “victimless crimes,” including drug controls; driving under the influence, passing impure drugs, etc. are not victimless crimes and would still be crimes. To single out police unions for impeding justice is wrong; every union impedes justice. Every union stands up for poor performers, criminal performers, etc., to serve the union’s ends. All unions need be placed under controls that prevent them from shielding any employee. Due process can be conducted without any union seeking to prevent or detour its proper implementation.

  25. “Though racial profiling is far from the only flaw in American law enforcement, it is nonetheless widespread. A 2019 Pew Research Center poll found that 59% of black men and 31% of black women say they have been unfairly stopped by police because of their race.”

    So, based on “perceptions”? This is your evidential bar? What objective criteria makes an unfair stop? Even if they feel like they were unfairly stopped, it’s unfalsifiable. So, it’s just a religion, and you take it on faith.

    “Their perceptions are backed by numerous studies – including many that control for other variables, including underlying crime rates—showing that police often treat blacks and Hispanics more harshly than similarly situated whites.”

    “Numerous studies”, including the zero that you linked. Cool. Overwhelming evidence.

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