In the comments section of a recent posting of mine, I got into a bit of a donnybrook with a commenter about the usefulness of profiling vs. higher general security and random searches at airports. It got a bit involved, so I thought it merited its own topic.
The crux of Joe’s argument that profiling (which he apparently confused with racial profiling, which is certainly a part but not the whole process) is that we are not facing a homogenous opponent, and therefore by simply giving extra scrutiny to Arab males between the ages of 16 to 39, we run the risk of getting blindsided by terrorists recruited specifically to evade this screen.
Kindly note that the tacit admission that this brand of profiling is effective: the terrorists are having to react and reshape their tactics to get around it. How many of the 19 9/11 hijackers fit the profile? Let’s see…1,2,3… hey, ALL OF THEM!
And let’s think about this for a moment. Let’s say the Islamists are recruiting non-Arabic people to do their bidding. That adds another necessary element to their planning, and gives us more opportunities to uncover their plots.
Let’s also be reasonable about just what “profiling” involves. We’re not talking about thought crimes here, a la “Minority Report.” We’re not talking about mass roundups of those who look funny, a la “The Siege.” Hollywood is NOT reality, despite what certain people (with names like Sheen, Streisand, or Moore) would have you believe.
Profiling is nothing more than good police work. It’s been used for a long time, and it works.
Let me personalize it a little. Profiling first gained prominence in the hunt for serial killers, and it worked. But most serial killers fall into the profile of white, single males between the ages of 18 and 40 — a category I happen to fall into. (Wayne Williams and Aileen Wuornos were exceptions, but nearly all the others fit the mold.) If a serial killer started operating in my area, I would not be in the least upset if the police started paying attention to me. In fact, I’d welcome it — the quicker I convince them I’m not their guy, the quicker they can focus on more likely suspects.
Back to the 9/11 hijackers. Was the fact that they were Arab males between 16 and 39 enough to detain them? Of course not. But toss in that they were travelling together, with one-way tickets and no luggage, and at least one of them was here illegally courtesy of an outdated Visa, at least a couple of them should have been taken aside for closer scrutiny. At that point, perhaps more attention would have been paid to the box cutters they were carrying could make passable weapons, and maybe one or more of those flights would have landed safely.
I’m not saying that it would have happened that way, but it certainly could have — IF those who are trained to protect us are allowed to use their knowledge and training and instincts to DO THEIR JOB.
Now, as to the “presumption of innocence” argument — it doesn’t fly. That right is strictly in relation to court proceedings. If everyone was presumed innocent until proven guilty, then the police could never arrest anyone on “suspicion” — after all, they haven’t been PROVEN guilty yet, so why are they in jail?
Profiling has been given a bad name through some rather notorious (and wrong) abuses. That arose when certain police officers started “racially profiling,” got caught, and were rightfully disciplined. But activists like the ACLU jumped on this and dropped the word “racial,” and tarred the whole profiling concept with the sins of those stupid cops.
Once again, because a few people abused certain tools, there’s a rush to ban all use of those tools to prevent further abuses, regardless of said tool’s usefulness and effectiveness in promoting public safety. If a few abuse them, let’s take them away from everybody instead of simply coming down hard on those who committed the initial wrong.
Just like the war against the private ownership of firearms.
Update: Pierre Legrand, of The Pink Flamingo Bar And Grill, adds yet another argument that (argh) I really, really should have thought of myself. Thank you, Pierre, for re-asserting the essential nature of the blogosphere: “You might be smarter than any of us (in the blogosphere), but you’re nowhere near as smart as all of us.”