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Racial Profiling Puts Everyone in Danger

Shawntel B. Hines

The last time I was in an airport was the beginning of January, when I returned for Independant Activities Period. As I stood in the security line of the airport, my thoughts were on how much I enjoyed break, how I really didn’t want to come back to MIT, and exactly how cold would it be. Then, like others in line, I began to take off my shoes, my outer coat, my earrings, and checked my pockets for the usual: coins, keys, cell phones.

For one moment, I thought, I don’t know why I have to go through this; you have never heard of a black person hijacking a plane. I’ve joked about such things with my family and friends, watching the news and placing a race to the criminals based on their crimes. The shoe bomber: thought he was a Middle Eastern male. The sniper: militant white male. It all seemed so simple. Blacks and hispanics don’t commit those kinds of crimes.

While Sept. 11 has made people from the Middle East the newest victims of racial profiling, the attempts to crackdown on profiling has proven to be ineffective. An article was published in the January 21st edition of The Boston Globe, stating that in Milton, Massachusetts, minorities got 58 percent of tickets but were estimated to be 15.8 percent of drivers. In Boston, minorities received 49.8 percent of tickets but were estimated to make up 33 percent of drivers.

Are minorities worse drivers? No. Many believe that minorities get pulled over for absolutely no reason. No “Oh, your tags are expired” or “You were speeding” or “You just ran a red light.” None of those. More drivers are being pulled over for DWM: driving while minority. What was once known as DWB (driving while black) has spread to other ethnic minorities. While I realize that the incident in the airport is also racial profiling, my idea of racial profiling goes like this: when someone gets robbed at with a gun (or knife) and the victim says it was a black man in a dark hoodie, the police sketch lacks so many details that any black man happening to be wearing a hoodie could fit the description.

The use of race in airport security procedures as a matter of safety, and the DWM situation are are not examples of blatant racism. I realize that both instances of racial profiling are instances of prejudice and stereotyping. There is no way one race can be eliminated in any crime or potential crime without some type of identifying evidence. While racial profiling is not defined as a tool of oppression, it has become one, like so many other things designed for our safety. Admittedly, there are patterns in some crimes, meaning that most persons committing a particular crime may be mostly white, black, etc. But that does not mean that the entire race should be under scrutiny.

Even more appalling is that most of us are guilty of racial profiling in our daily lives. We’ve stood at the airport at looked at people with the thought in our heads “Someone might need to check that person out. He looks suspicious.” Though our biases may not have resulted in people not being let on planes or being pulled over for no reason, they are still just as dangerous. These are still prejudiced attitudes. We are still judging people by the color of their skin, and clearly, not the content of their character. Sure, we don’t know the character of every person that we see on the street, in the airport, in the convenience store, but this is all the more reason not to judge.

A matter of safety, is it? Well, when the sniper was assassinating people throughout the Washington, D.C. and Virginia area, the police were looking for a white male. Everyone thought it was a white male. But, as it turns out, he was black. Imagine who could have been saved if authorities had opened their eyes to the fact that anyone, of any race, could have been the perpetrator. Let’s not forget about the shoe bomber. The man was white. Enough said. In the midst of celebrating Dr. King’s dreams, we need to take note of the institutionalized prejudices that are affecting our lives. These prejudices are allowing us to maintain the idea that we are fit to judge. We are not. While you are judging someone, someone else is judging you.

Shawntel B. Hines is a member of the class of 2006.