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Demise of the Racial Profiling Debate | November 21, 2001

RECENTLY SAN DIEGO CONGRESSMAN Darrell Issa described on Fox News his first racial profiling experience.

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"My last name is Issa," the congressman told Hannity and Colmes. "You know, it’s a very common name in the Middle East. Without a doubt, there are terrorists who have that as part of their name."

Due to his Lebanese name, Rep. Issa was not allowed to board his flight, but he is tolerant of the reasons why: "It’s human nature. And we’re making sacrifices, including understanding that this is going to happen."

Indeed. A few weeks after the terrorist attacks, I had a similar experience while entering a large production studio in Hollywood.

I drove up to the gate, and was asked to show identification. After handing over my driver’s license, the officer crunched up his forehead: "How do you pronounce your last name?"

"Kabbany," I replied.

He went inside his little booth to riffle through papers. Meanwhile I recalled the e-mails I had received from friends asking me if I was related to this or that "Kabbani" mentioned in news stories after the attacks. The officer came out of his booth and said, "Ma’am, please pull your car over to the right, step out of the car, and allow it to be searched."

Like Rep. Issa, my last name is also common in the Middle East, although most spell it with an "I." And, like Rep. Issa, I understand that racial profiling is something our law enforcement officers need to do to ensure our safety. But I’d like to take this thought process one step further.

If it is acceptable to racially profile people from the Middle East to stop terrorists, why is it unacceptable to profile others for similar reasons? In fact, the whole debate over whether racial profiling is acceptable appears to have been resolved.

"In (a) Gallup Poll, 71 percent of black respondents said they would favor requiring Arabs, including those who are U.S. citizens, to undergo special, more intensive security checks before boarding airplanes," states the Boston Globe. "Asked whether they favor or oppose requiring Arabs, including U.S. citizens, to carry special identification as a means of preventing terrorist attacks, 64 percent of blacks said yes."

Black Americans understand the logic behind why law enforcement officers need to racially profile Middle Easterners. Because 100 percent of the people who killed 5,000 Americans on Sept. 11 and 100 percent of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists are from that part of the world, there needs to be special attention given for everyone’s safety.

The arguments for profiling young black men who exhibit certain types of behavior follow the same logic. "While less than 13 percent of the population, blacks commit more than 50 percent of all murders, more than 40 percent of rapes, almost 60 percent of robberies, and more than half of all violent crime," explains Larry Elder in a recent column. "Young black men, ages 15 to 24, while only one percent of the population, commit up to 20 percent of all violent crime."

To quote Jonah Goldberg, "The unpleasant reality of racial profiling is that it works." He must be right, otherwise why would we bother profiling Middle Easterners right now?

My car was searched because of my last name. Fine. Not only can I accept it, I can understand it. I have nothing to hide, and if I was inconvenienced for ten minutes, it was for the greater good, right? For society’s safety.

Similarly, if a robbery or rape occurs in a large, urban area and a young, black male is suspect – and a young black male fitting the description is pulled over and searched and let go when he is found innocent – should he, too, accept and understand? Yes.

"Street police work is all about profiling," explains former Los Angeles chief deputy sheriff Bud Hansen in the Seattle Times, who spent six of his 30-year career in Watts, and another four in an L.A. barrio. "Sometimes race is part of that and sometimes not. Bottom line: Street police work cannot be done without profiles based on people, times, and places. Every young cop learns that early on and practices it thereafter, and it has nothing to do with racial prejudice."

Officer Hansen goes on to explain that the only real problem arises when a police officer cannot reasonably articulate why he stopped a suspect, or if the police officer was disrespectful. Other than that, he says, "The issue is not that profiling took place, because it must be done."

Jennifer Kabbany is associate editor of Readers may e-mail her at

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