Tag Archives: racial profiling

Racial Profiling: Critical Race Theory and Michel Foucault

Alternative Food For Thought:
You may write a post that outlines three sections of your term paper – the description of your topic and the two analytical sections that explain the topic using your chosen approaches.
This gives you an opportunity to receive some additional feedback regarding key ideas from your term paper.

Instead of addressing the original blog, I chose to do the alternative food for thought question because I felt that this opportunity should not be missed. By doing this topic, I feel that Mike gets a glimpse of our papers and could provide us with his opinions and constructive criticism which will help us better our assignment before the due date.
My term paper will address the very debatable and controversial topic of racial profiling in the Canadian society (and a few comparisons to United States), with a particular focus towards law enforcement. Racial profiling has been prevalent in Canadian history and in modern day since many citizens observe this as an ongoing issue. Racial profiling is the act of a police officers singling out individuals from visible minorities and giving them the title of being criminal. I am narrowing down the victims of racial profiling by focusing mainly on two groups have been constantly targeted solely based on their appearance, Muslims post 9/11 and African-Canadians. There are few members of law enforcement that successfully acknowledge racial profiling to be a concerning and continuous issue, where a large number of them disregard the issue as whole. The society needs to come together to eliminate racial profiling in order to live peacefully without the fear of being victimized by those in whom we bestow trust and power.
The first theory I chose to use to address and analyze my topic is critical race theory. In my opinion, the critical race theory goes hand in hand with my topic after the class lecture on critical legal studies and the presentation on “Stop and Frisk Program” implemented by the New York Police Department. What is critical race theory, critical race theory examines the relationship between power, race, and law. Critical race theory is about race and confronting racism which seem to be deeply rooted in many aspects of Canadian and American society (Pavlich, 2011). According to the UCLA School of Public Affairs: “ Critical race theory recognizes that racism is engrained in… [North American] society. The power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color”. In regards to race, theorists of critical race would suggest that racial profiling is responsible for reproducing unequal race relations (Pavlich, 2011).
The second theorist I will draw upon is Michel Foucault. Some concepts in Michel Foucault’s theory of power-knowledge which I want to and will apply are the notions of governmentality, power, and discipline in the context of the racial profiling of Africans and Arabs. From my understanding of Foucault’s work, would likely argue that “racial profiling is an expression of power” (Morrison, 2007). For Foucault, power is that which represses a class or individuals. Morrison states that “Racism is, for Foucault, necessary to the State: only with racism can state killing be justified, and only with racism can the State exercise its sovereign power” (2007). From this view racial profiling instead of criminal profiling is a demonstration of racism used by members of law enforcement to achieve a kind of “control” if you will, over society.


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NYPD and ‘Racial Profiling’

The article by Sociological Images and the video about the NYPD’s ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy is about the program in which police officers are required to stop and search individuals in public without a warrant; only reasonable cause.  The main reason for this program is to appease the public opinion of the police and to prevent crime by taking proactive measures.  Generally this seems like a good program for the overall safety of the community but many people argue against it and the statistics show that the program does very little to prevent or catch criminal behaviour.  As shown in the article, the author reports that about 87-89% of stops lead to no evidence of wrong-doing (Sharp, 2012).  Moreover, the program is put under greater scrutiny when the statistics show that the overwhelming majority of individuals stopped are minority groups, i.e., African Americans and Latinos.  Adding to the issue is the report that the officers are required to fill quotas for the number of stops they make and are threatened with penalties for not filling enough ‘250’s’ as they call them.

Critical race theory can be used to explain this program by the NYPD.  Essentially this theory describes race relations and that racist motives, especially institutional racism, is behind society’s power structures in legal contexts.  “CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color” (UCLA School of Public Affairs, 2009, para. 2).  How this relates to the ‘stop-and-frisk’ program is that the underlying basis for the stops is based on the race of the individuals.  The majority of them are minorities that turn out to be innocent.  The source of racism in this theory is “systematic, structural…deeply psychological and socially ingrained” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 130).  As such, the commissioner and mayor of the NYPD and New York both promote this program saying it is necessary and effective.  Additionally, the systemic racism is evident from the Lieutenants and Sergeants that condone and force this practice to target minorities.

Furthermore, as Pavlich (2011) states, “law is never colour blind, neutral, or objective, and is key to struggles that generate, manipulate, and use various conceptions of race for difference political ends” (p. 130).  Critical race theorists would use this statement to show that the NYPD is using this program to gain public support by showing they are proactively trying to reduce crime and Michael Bloomberg is in support of this as well to maintain his position as mayor.  This is effective because the majority of the public views this program in a positive light and would like to see it continue.

In my opinion, I think this is a good program for police departments to keep positive public opinions because it is shown that a police presence makes the community feel like the police are doing their job effectively.  Regarding the issue of racial profiling, the more appropriate term would be ‘criminal profiling’.  If you take a realistic view of crime in New York and in many other American cities, minorities like African Americans and Latinos disproportionately make up a large amount crime in relation to their total population.  Studies have shown that the typical offender in a city like New York is a young minority male.  This recent report by the NYPD proves just that, where 34.9% of suspects arrested are Black, 37.7% are Hispanic, and 23.3% are White.  While I agree that some officers tend to take advantage of profiling by abusing their power or being pressured into doing so, as shown in the video, generally their main targets are individuals, regardless of race, that are known to commit more crime.  If this program was done in a city where statistics show that young White males commit the most crime then the police would primarily target young white males.

Here is another article about the ‘stop-and-frisk’ program that supports the idea that the police target stereotypical criminals for their city based on statistics and that there is no racial motive behind their work.  It states that:

Blacks committed 66 percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009 (though they were only 55 percent of all stops and only 23 percent of the city’s population). Blacks committed 80 percent of all shootings in the first half of 2009. Together, blacks and Hispanics committed 98 percent of all shootings. Blacks committed nearly 70 percent of all robberies. Whites, by contrast, committed 5 percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009, though they are 35 percent of the city’s population (and were 10 percent of all stops). They committed 1.8 percent of all shootings and less than 5 percent of all robberies. The face of violent crime in New York, in other words, like in every other large American city, is almost exclusively black and brown. Any given violent crime is 13 times more likely to be committed by a black than by a white perpetrator (MacDonald, 2010, para. 10).

To conclude, crime rates are what drive the tactics that police departments use to prevent crime.  It’s only logical for them to target those who are responsible for the majority of crimes committed.  Even though many of the minority individuals stopped are innocent, the police are only doing so for the greater good of their community.  However, I do disagree with how the NYPD carries out this program.  Their main problem is that there is no independent oversight committee to evaluate their programs and policies.  It is unethical to force officers to write ‘250’s’ for the sake of not getting punished which is what makes this program ineffective and corrupt.

MacDonald, H. (2010, May 14). Distorting the Truth About Crime and Race. City Journal. Retrieved from: http://www.city-journal.org/2010/eon0514hm.html.

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

Sharp, G. (2012, October 15). NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy. Retrieved from: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/10/15/nypds-stop-and-frisk-policy.

UCLA School of Public Affairs. (2009). What is Critical Race Theory? Retrieved from: https://spacrs.wordpress.com/what-is-critical-race-theory.

United States Department of Justice. (2012). Crime and Enforcement Activity in New York City. Retrieved from: http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/downloads/pdf/analysis_and_planning/crime_and_enforcement_activity_jan_to_jun_2012.pdf.


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