Racial Profiling In United States

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Racial profiling is the mistreatment of an individual because of their ethnicity and racial background even if that person has not done anything wrong. Racial profiling has and will always be a problem especially for minority groups. Most of the racial profiling cases you hear involves the police and minorities. Whether there was actually racial profiling involved or it was a case of the police doing their job depends on the circumstances of the altercation. However, many studies have came to the conclusion that African Americans, Blacks, and other minority groups feel that they are more racially profiled and discriminated against by the police because of their racial background (Coulson-Clark & Kamalu, 2010; Higgins, Vito, & Walsh, 2008; Barlow & Barlow, 2002; Allicock, Davidoff, Erazo, Nadal, & Serpe, 2017; Gbadebo, Kerr, Maticka, & Peirone, 2017).

Traffic Stops in Louisville and Missouri

In two traffic stop studies conducted in Kentucky and Missouri, they shared similarities that blacks are searched and stopped more frequently than whites despite not making up the majority of the population (Higgins, Vito, & Walsh, 2008; Coulson-Clark & Kamalu, 2010). Both studies show that racial background and ethnicity are important in searches and play an important role. Coulson-Clark & Kamalu (2010), looked at a report of Missouri traffic stops. The stop rate of blacks in Missouri was disportuntially high compared to whites in the state despite blacks only making up 10% of the population.

Even for motorists in the state, the African American search rate was higher than the national average (Coulson-Clark & Kamalu, 2010). Coulson-Clark and Kamalu (2010) also noted that blacks are twice as likely to be searched than white people in the state. Coulson-Clark and Kamalu (2010) concluded from their study that the number of people searched were of ethnic minority groups; especially being an African American. Higgins, Vito, and Walsh (2008) looked at Louisville traffic stops. Higgins et al., (2008) examined from their study when stopped, blacks drivers were more likely to be searched 26.5% of the time than white drivers who were at 14.9%. Higgins et al., (2008) also concluded that 1.3 times is the rate that African American drivers will be searched compared to other races.

Perceptions of Racial Profiling by Black Police Officers

Racial profiling has been found to not only affect ordinary black citizens, but also African Americans that work on the force. A group of African Americans who averaged more than 20 years of law enforcement experience, stated that themselves had been racially profiled on several occasions throughout their life (Barlow & Barlow, 2002). The African American officers spoke about how saddening it is that they have to teach their children how to handle themselves in an encounter with law enforcement because of their race. This kind of experience that the African American police officers had likely has happened to other blacks and minority groups.

Barlow and Barlow (2002) conducted a study surveying African Americans in the Milwaukee P.D. According to Barlow and Barlow (2002), 18% of the respondents stated that they had been searched and a ticket was given to 22% of respondents. The respondents felt they were ticketed because of their race. Respondents (43%) felt that they have been pulled over due to racial profiling within a short time p (Barlow and Barlow, 2002). Also, arrests had reportedly been made to 7% of respondents and they felt is was due to racial profiling. However, almost all respondents stated that racial profiling was not something they found useful to use while on duty (Barlow and Barlow, 2002).

Perceptions of Racial Profiling by Black Respondents

The two studies conducted by Allicock, Davidoff, Erazo, Nadal & Serpe 2017 and Barlow & Barlow, 2002 share a common theme of African Americans being stopped by law enforcement without a justifiable reason which could have been the result for racial profiling. Allicock et al., 2017 investigate perceptions of law enforcement and concluded that African Americans respondents had the least favorable impression of the police, while White people reported having a more favorable impression of the police. Perceptions of law enforcement could be bad due to the fact that 25.8% of respondents stated that they were stopped without a valid reason why (Allicock et al., 2017). Some respondents were given a reason for why they were stopped, but 20% of respondents thought the police officers response as to why they were pulled over was irrelevant to anything they had done on the road.

For example, an 18-year old African American said that they were stopped because the police told him they stopped him because he looked suspicious (Allicock et al., 2017) Another example included a 22-year-old multicultural female stating the cops reason for being pulled over was that she did not have a seatbelt on even though she was wearing one.

A similarity between the two studies by Allicock et al. (2017) and Gbadebo et al. (2017) share a common theme of most African Americans/Blacks having faced racial profiling which may lead to racial discrimination by law enforcement. That has the effect to make African Americans/Blacks perceive negatively of law enforcement and/or have relationship issues with law enforcement Gbadebo, Kerr, Maticka, & Peirone (2017) conducted a survey involving the African, Caribbean, and black youth to examine their perceptions of discrimination by police and courts. According to Gbadebo et al. (2017), 40% of respondents reported experiencing discrimination sometime in their life by the police and/or courts. Also in the study, African youth are 3.7 more times and Caribbean youth are 3.2 times more likely to be discriminated against by law enforcement than Black youth.


At traffic stops, African Americans/Blacks get stopped and searched at a higher rate than white people despite not making up the majority of the population. Also the studies done by Gbadebo et al., 2017, Barlow & Barlow, 2002, and Allicock et al., 2017 conclude that many Africans Americans/Blacks feel in some way that they have been discriminated or racially profiled sometime in their life by law enforcement. With African Americans/Blacks feeling that they are being racially profiled and discriminated, it changes the perception that they have towards law enforcement in a negative way. However are the police doing their job and are policing or is their really racial profiling occuring.


  • Allicock, N., Davidoff, K. C., Erazo, T., Nadal, K. L,. & Serpe, C. R. (2017). Perceptions of police, racial profiling, and psychological outcomes: a mixed methodological study. Journal of Social Issues, 73, 808-830. doi: 10:10.1111/josi.12249
  • Barlow, D. E., & Barlow, M. H. (2002). Racial profiling: A survey of African American police officers. Police Quarterly, 5, 334-359
  • Coulson-Clark, M., Kamalu, C. N., & Kamalu, M. N. (2010). Racial disparities in sentencing: implications for the criminal justice system and the African American community. African Journal of Criminology & Justice Studies, 4, 1-34
  • Gbadebo, K., Kerr, J., Maticka, T. E., & Peirone, A. (2017). The social environment of daily life and perceptions of police and/or court discrimination among African, Caribbean, and black youth. Canadian Journal of Criminology & Criminal Justice, 59, 346-372.
  • Higgins, G. E., Vito G. F., Walsh, W. F. (2008). Searches: An understudied area of racial profiling. Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, 6, 23-39. doi:10.1300/J222v06n01_03

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