Racial Profiling A Case Study Essay Research

Racial Profiling, A Case Study Essay, Research Paper


Racial-profiling, the practice of targeting individuals for police investigation based on their race alone in the last few years has been an increasingly prominent issue in American society (Abramosky). Numerous magazines, newspapers, and journals have explored the issue of race-motivated police actions. Recently, the ABA Journal did a study of New Jersey traffic stops from 1988 to 1991, concluding that black drivers were more likely to be pulled over and arrested than whites (Ghannam). The study also delves into the legal ramifications of the 1996 United States Supreme Court ruling in the Whren v. United States case which held that a police officer s subjective motivation for stopping a motorist on the highway was irrelevant as long as an objectively reasonable bas – such as a traffic violation existed for making the stop (Abramosky). The Whren court decision validated the pretext stop which occurs when police officers ostensibly stop motorists for traffic violations but are in fact motivated by the desire to obtain evidence of other crimes (Abramosky). Police officers, however, argue that racial profiling is common sense and is a sensible, statistically based tool that enables them to focus their energies efficiently for the purpose of providing protection against crime to law a-biding folk (Kennedy).

In Taylor and Whitney s study investigating the existence of an empirical basis for racial profiling and crime, they concluded that society must acknowledge the statistics behind crime rates in order to understand the concept of racial profiling; such information is available in governmental annual crime reports. Statistics are facts and numbers which cannot be disputed and provide the empirical basis for racial profiling. The FBI Bulletin also addressed the necessity to consider statistics in addressing the issue of racial profiling. However, unlike Taylor and Whitney who argue for the use of statistics to support racial profiling, the FBI Bulletin promotes the usage of statistics in order to reduce and hopefully eliminate racial profiling. The FBI Bulletin states that if agencies were mandated to keep consistent statistical reports on the attributes and nature of their traffic stops, then racial profiling will not be as rampant. A written record of all traffic stops would do so by attributing individual responsibility to the police officers involved in such violations.

The issue of profiling, not only racial profiling, is one that affects both the local and national levels. The focus of my research paper is the issue of profiling and college students. I intend to research the different perspectives that college students are taking toward the idea of race-motivated police traffic stops. I am investigating the frequency of traffic stops among college students and whether or not race is a factor in such traffic stops. My research will also take into consideration many other factors that students may contributed to traffic stops (i.e. gender, age, vehicle, location, attire). I will focus on a specific age group in targeting college students and I will even further narrow my focus by targeting college students who live Orange County.

Though the majority of literature that has been published on this topic focuses mainly on young minority males and the issue of race, I decided to broaden my research to include female subjects of the same age bracket as well as a consideration of many other factors, aside from race (such as age, gender, type of vehicle, location, and attire). Upon compiling my survey, I administered it to 10 different college students of varying ethnic backgrounds. I also dispersed it evenly between 5 male students and 5 female students. The survey asks for a general overview of the individual s history of traffic violations and his/her encounters with the police during such traffic encounters. The survey also inquires regarding the length of time that the individual has been driving, how many times the individual has been pulled over during that timeframe, the city that the individual drives most frequently in, the type of vehicle the individual drives (or was driving) when pulled over, the person s attire, and the individual s perception of his/her experience(s). A copy of the survey is attached hereto.

In reviewing the survey results, the males, on average, have been pulled over slightly more frequently than females. The five males who were surveyed listed their nationalities as following: Turkish, Colombian, White, Black, and Filipino. Two respondents indicated that they had been stopped 1-3 times whereas one respondent indicated that he had been stopped 4-6 times and the last two respondents indicated that they had been stopped 7-9 times. The average number of years that the male respondents have been driving is 3.7 years. Of the five surveyed, when asked why he believed that the reason he was initially stopped, the answers varied from location, age, gender, nationality, and vehicle. Two of the five respondents related his traffic stop to race.

Of the females surveyed, they listed their nationalities as following: European (white), Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Mexican. On average, the females have been pulled over less frequently than the males. One female respondent had been stopped 7-9 times whereas two respondents have been stopped 1-3 times and the last two respondents have never been stopped. The average number of years that the female respondents have been driving is 4.7 years. In terms of the reasons the females gave for being stopped, the answers varied between gender, location, and age. None of the five females related her traffic violation to her race. Also, the Vietnamese female indicated that the reason why she believed that she has never been stopped is because of her gender.

Though my findings indicate that race may be a factor in traffic stops , I found that gender actually appears to be the more prevalent attribute. The gender issue is one that has been acknowledged in past research, but has often been disregarded. In terms of my research, the respondents were all varied in their ethnic backgrounds, reside and drive most frequently in Orange County, and gave varying answers regarding the reasons for their traffic stops. However, even though the female respondents, on average, have been driving for a longer period of time than the males, they have been stopped, on average, less frequently than the male respondents.

I conducted two interviews, one with an Asian male and one with a White male. The first Interviewee is 22 years old, Filipino, and a third year student at Cal State Fullerton. He commutes to school and drives most often in Fullerton. He has been driving for 6 years and has been pulled over an estimated 15+ times during that timeframe. The interview lasted roughly 45 minutes. In sum, he discussed the different areas he had been pulled over in, what kind of vehicle he was driving during the stops, the differing times (i.e. day/night) during which he was pulled over, and particularly, his interactions with the different police officers who pulled him over. We also discussed the issue of race and how he believed his ethnicity did or did not play a factor in how he was treated by the police officers. Growing up in Yorba Linda (Orange County), he has been stopped numerous times in the area. He noted that fact that many officers appeared to follow him prior to stopping him. One time, a police officer had followed him for over five minutes prior to eventually stopping him for stopping in front of the line at a stop sign. The officer and his partner proceeded to question the interviewee and to search his car. Another police cruiser was called to the scene. The interviewee had forgotten his wallet at home and telephoned his father to bring it to the scene. He did, however, give the police officers his California Driver s License number, but the officers were unable to track it until his father arrived with the wallet. The interviewee had been on his way to church. He was wearing a tank top because he did not want to wrinkle his dress shirt (which happen to be hanging from the window sill in the back seat). The police officers had him sit on the curb until his father arrived. Wearing only his tank top and with it getting dark, the interviewee started to get cold and asked the officers if he could put on his shirt. The officers smirked and said – why, is it getting a bit nippy out here? The interviewee had been driving his parents Saturn and felt that the officers stopped him because he was driving without his shirt on in a generally upper middle class area. He is convinced that his ethnicity played a great role in his being stopped due to the comment the officers had made about the weather. He also feels that the officers detained him and were suspiciously unable to track his license number due to his ethnicity. The traffic stop lasted over an hour. One other key incident occurred in Mission Viejo a couple of years ago. The interviewee had borrowed his girlfriend s car, a Honda Accord, to take his friend home. After dropping his friend off, he was subsequently stopped and warned by the officer that his kind didn t belong out there at that time of night. The interviewee feels that his ethnicity has been an overwhelming factor in his numerous traffic stops. Aside from the two incidents just described, the interviewee has had many other encounters with police officers which he felt were provoked by his race. Over the timeframe that he has been driving, the interviewee has had two different cars. The first car, an electric blue Honda Civic Hatchback, had had many modifications. However, his present car is a white Acura Integra without any modifications. He has driven his Integra for approximately the same amount of time that he had driven his Civic. Regardless of the differing cars, the interviewee still finds himself being stopped rather frequently.

The second interviewee is 22 years old, White, and a fourth year student at Cal State Fullerton. He has also been driving for 6 years and has been pulled over 2 times during that timeframe. He is also a commuter who drives most frequently in Fullerton. The interview lasted approximately 30 minutes. He drives a newer model beige Camry. In sum, we discussed the same topics that had been discussed in the first interview: the different areas he had been pulled over in, what kind of vehicle he was driving during the stops, the differing times (i.e. day/night) during which he was pulled over, and particularly, his interactions with the different police officers who pulled him over. The second interviewee also grew up in Yorba Linda, but has had 2 traffic stops. However, he has only been cited once. The first stop had occurred when he had initially started driving. The interviewee had been stopped for rolling or not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. The interviewee noted that the officer, though intimidating, was professional. He was quickly cited for his violation and the encounter last approximately 5 minutes. The second time that the interviewee was stopped was due to speeding. However, he was not cited for the violation. He talked [his] way out of it, convincing the police officer that he was late for an exam. The officer eventually let him go with a warning to be careful. When asked if he felt that race was a factor in his stops, he stated that he was simply lucky that he has not been stopped more often. The interviewee stated that he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He felt his traffic stops were justified. He feels that he cannot say much on the race issue, but does believe that his ethnicity has probably played a role in his not being stopped more frequently.

Though the first and second interviewees share several similar characteristics, the rate of their traffic stops greatly differs. Ethnicity, however, does appear to be a factor, particularly when taking the first interviewee s experiences into consideration.


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