Racial Discrimination and Racial Profiling

Racial profiling can be defined as a heavily disputed term. It is frequently understood as being the unfair targeting of members of minority groups (Criminal Justice, 2019). This focus on minority groups leads to more scrutiny based solely upon the belief that members of their racial, religious or ethnic group are more likely to be involved in criminal activities rather than the likelihood of someone committing a crime being based on an individual’s behaviour. Profiling often sees people of colour being targeted for “humiliating and often frightening detention, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity” (ACLU [2], 2019) Recently racial profiling has developed to include anti-terror activities and immigration laws following the September 11th terrorist attacks in America (ACLU [1], 2019). This incident saw an increase in Muslim, South East Asian and Arab individuals being profiled more heavily by people such as local police and airline personnel (ACLU [1], 2019). This type of racial discrimination by agencies such as the police has sparked many movements such as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement in the U.S.

The aim of this report is to show the extent to which racial discrimination and profiling is a negative factor in the community, the possible reasons why people discriminate against those from certain ethnic minority groups and will examine possible solutions to eradicating the problem.

When researching the topic of racial profiling and racial discrimination, a number of literature was reviewed including a combination of scholar articles and websites. Firstly, statistics were gathered to evaluate the extent of which profiling and discrimination is a problem within the police and other private agencies. The problem was seen within both the UK and in America meaning racial profiling is a problem internationally. The New York Times created a poll which analysed people’s opinion on whether the police favoured a certain race. It found that “82 percent of blacks and 71 percent of Hipics felt the police did not treat white and black New Yorkers with equal fairness” (Lee, 1997). Using the American Civil Liberties Union website, statistics about earnings of minority racial groups in the U.S. was gathered and using ‘The Facts on Racial Profiling’ by Garry Crystal, statistics about policing in the UK were found. This showed that there is a significant problem of discrimination and racial profiling.

It is argued that “prejudicial attitudes” is one of the key reasons that stop and searches by the police are a different experience between different racial groups (Reiman, 2010; 262). In the UK it was found that some police use racial profiling when on duty by The Ministry of Justice (Crystal, 2018). Although under the Terrorism Act 2000 (section 44) police officers are permitted to stop individuals if they have a reasonable cause, people within the Asian community were 5 times more likely and black people were 7 times more likely to be stopped and searched compared to white people (Crystal, 2018).

This problem of stop and searches continue out-with the UK as well as National Geographic states that in 19 out of 24 states Black people are more likely to be stopped than White people and are more likely to be searched in “all but one state” (Fletcher, 2018). It was also found that although White individuals have a higher rate of being involved in drug offences, Black people were 10 times more likely to be incarcerated for drug offences (ACLU [1], 2019). Therefore, we can see that there are a variety of areas in which people of a certain ethnicity are being discriminated against when it comes to the criminal justice system.

By examining different types of discrimination set out in ‘Measuring Racial Discrimination’ by Rebecca Blank, Marilyn Dabady and Constance Citro, we can see various reasons as to why people may use racial discrimination and whether it could be intentional or unintentional discrimination. In this article there are a number of different types of discrimination outlined which can be seen to be caused by different motives. The first is intentional discrimination which was set out in 1954 when Gordon Allport created a list of steps in which people behave in a negative way towards an individual from another racial group. The series includes “verbal antagonism, avoidance, segregation, physical attack and extermination” (Dabady; Blank; Citro, 2004).

The second type of discrimination is subtle discrimination or unconscious discrimination which is when certain harmful attitudes are normalised in society leading to ambiguous forms of discrimination towards certain racial or ethnic minority groups (Dabady; Blank; Citro, 2004). This could be because of the way certain ethnic groups are portrayed in the media for example, in the news or in television shows and movies. Statistical discrimination involves a particular group’s beliefs influencing the way someone may act towards other individuals from that group (Dabady; Blank; Citro, 2004).

An example of this could be, if employers believe that black individuals are more likely to be involved in criminal activity, therefore having criminal records, and if they believe this makes them more inefficient workers then they may be more hesitant to employ people who identify as part of the black racial group. They may also treat employees differently such as providing different opportunities to individuals from certain groups.

Racial discrimination can also be seen within organisations as organisational discrimination. This is when organisations reflect the biases or beliefs of those within them such as the rules that evolve from history such as racism in America (Dabady; Blank; Citro, 2004). This could be the reason that it is common for police, in American especially, to be accused of showing racial profiling. America’s history shows a strong enforcement of racism and segregation and the harsh policing of Black communities which are often considered “more likely to be both the perpetrators and victims of violent crime” (Hannah-Jones, 2018). This history being enshrined in society can lead to individuals creating a certain idea of racial groups and might be reflected in the organisations that they work for, including the police.

To gather general information about the extent of racial profiling in the UK, the Civil Rights Movement website was used, and this source also gave possible solutions to solving the issue of racial discrimination and profiling.

The negative attitudes of some police officers towards certain racial groups has sparked a number of movements such as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement in America which has now became an international movement (Black Lives Matter, 2019). This campaign was started because of the deaths of a number of young and innocent African American’s such as the 2014 death of 18 year old Michael Brown (Delsol, 2019). It is a movement that focuses on connecting Black individuals internationally “who have a shared desire for justice” against “the rampant and deliberate violence” that is used against them (Black Lives Matter, 2019). Now, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has the aim of ensuring “every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive” (Black Lives Matter, 2019). Using the Black Lives Matter website an example of the effects that racial profiling can have on the community were highlighted. These include racial profiling and discrimination causing a lack of trust from racial or ethnic minority groups in local authorities.

Garry Crystal states in ‘The Facts on Racial Profiling’ that the police should never stop and search someone purely on appearance and should have a genuine reason to stop someone (Crystal, 2018). However, when reading the literature available on this topic possible solutions are not discussed as much as we may assume. Therefore, this report will explore possible answers to how we could eradicate the problem of racial profiling and key reasons as to why it may happen as often as it does. These ideas were found from a variety of sources such as the American Civil Liberties union who advocates affirmative action and others suggest the implementation of policies or harsher punishment for those who show signs of racial discrimination towards others.

The first problem created by racial discrimination and racial profiling is that it can cause people to feel alienated by the community and can cause distrust between law enforcement and minority groups such as between Black and Asian communities and the local police (Crystal, 2018). This may cause discrimination or hate crime to increase against ethnic groups as it reinforces the idea that people of certain ethnicity are more prone to committing crime. Sean Whitcomb, member of the Seattle Police Department, states that we should be building trust and should work “towards increasing our legitimacy in the African American community, or any community that has a concern” (Gold, 2016).
It is also a problem that racially biased stop and searches can be traumatic, frightening and embarrassing for some individuals.

It is common that young Black individuals are taught how to act if they are stopped by a police officer by their parents or guardians, and even through books that are available detailing step by step guides on what to do in certain situations (Lee, 1997). Teenagers often feel that the police challenge their self-respect and whilst many are taught by their parents to speak politely and in a certain manner police find this detachment as a way to start fights (Lee, 1997). This can create this idea that young Black people need to act a certain way in order to gain respect from police officers which in effect leads to further distrust in the police.

A number of measures have already been taken to try and alleviate the problem of racial profiling and discrimination. For example, in America Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 which reduces the disparities between crack cocaine and powder cocaine amounts that would trigger criminal penalties (Revolvy, 2019). In 2011 the guidelines of this act were applied to individuals who were sentenced before the act was passed (ACLU [3], 2019). This means that around “12,000 people – 85 percent of whom are black” may have their sentences reviewed or reduced by federal judges (ACL [3], 2019). In 2010 Seattle introduced a policy that meant officers could not stop pedestrians or drivers unless “they have documented facts that they suspect a crime is about to happen” (Gold, 2016).

However, possible solutions to the problem of racial discrimination have yet to be discussed further. For example, one solution could be to introduce harsh punishment or legislation for those in organisations such as the police if they show prejudice and discriminatory behaviour towards people of certain groups based solely on appearance. This could possibly reduce the amount of racial profiling by the police and may lead to more trust in the police from people of ethnic minority groups.

There could also be more awareness of racial discrimination within the education system and when it comes to race the negative stereotypes surrounding different racial groups could be eliminating leading to the amount of unconscious discrimination possibly decreasing. There could also be a reduction in the media portraying certain groups as being more prone to crime such as how Black people are described in the news compared to how White people are described. Reducing the amount of negative stigma surrounding ethnic groups can lead to fewer discriminatory opinions being created.

This is strongly advocated by American Civil Liberties Union who explain that they support “affirmative action to secure racial diversity in a number of settings to help ensure equal opportunities for all people” (ACLU [2], 2019).
Therefore, the problem of racial discrimination and racial profiling on minority groups can be seen as a significant issue and can lead to serious problems that desperately need solutions. In order to regain the trust of the police by racial minority groups and in order for individuals to truly feel safe, action should be taken against racial discrimination and the targeting of individuals solely because of skin colour or ethnic identity.


  • ACLU [1], 2019, ‘Racial Profiling’, American Civil Liberties Union [online], available at: https://www.aclu.org/issues/racial-justice/race-and-criminal-justice/racial-profiling
  • ACLU [2], 2019, ‘Affirmative Action’, American Civil Liberties Union [online], available at: https://www.aclu.org/issues/racial-justice/affirmative-action
  • ACLU [3], ‘Race and Criminal Justice’, American Civil Liberties Union [online], available at: https://www.aclu.org/issues/racial-justice/race-and-criminal-justice
  • Black Lives Matter, 2019, ‘What We Believe’, Black Lives Matter [online], available at: https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/what-we-believe/
  • Blank.R; Dabady. M; Citro. C, 2004, ‘Measuring Racial Discrimination’, The National Academies Press, Washington DC, [online]: https://www.nap.edu/read/10887/chapter/1#ii
  • Criminal Justice, 2019, ‘Racial Profiling’, available at: http://criminal-justice.iresearchnet.com/system/racial-profiling/
  • Crystal. Garry, 2018, ‘The Facts on Racial Profiling’, Civil Rights Movement [online], December 16th, available at: http://www.civilrightsmovement.co.uk/facts-racial-profiling.html
  • Delsol. Rebekah, 2019, ‘Racial Profiling’, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies [online], available at: https://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/publications/cjm/article/racial-profiling
  • Fletcher. Michael, 2018, ‘For Black Motorists, a Never-Ending Fear of Being Stopped’, The Race Issue, National Geographic [online], available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/04/the-stop-race-police-traffic/
  • Hannah-Jones. Nikole, 2018, ‘Taking Freedom: Yes, Black America Fears the Police. Here’s Why’, Pacific Standard [online], April 10th, available at: https://psmag.com/social-justice/why-black-america-fears-the-police
  • Lee. Felicia, 1997, ‘Young and in Fear of the Police; Parents Teach Children How to Deal With Officers’ Bias’, October 23rd, New York Times [online], available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1997/10/23/nyregion/young-fear-police-parents-teach-children-deal-with-officers-bias.html
  • Reiman. Jeffrey, 2010, ‘Is Racial Profiling Just? Making Criminal Justice Policy in the Original Position’, The Journal of Ethics, 29th December, Volume 15, Issue 1-2, available at: https://link-springer-com.gcu.idm.oclc.org/article/10.1007/s10892-010-9096-5
  • Revolvy, 2019, ‘Fair Sentencing Act’, Revolvy [online], available at: https://www.revolvy.com/page/Fair-Sentencing-Act

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