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Jonah and Racial Profiling


I disagree with Jonah’s argument in his column today — made in the context of discussing racial profiling in immigration enforcement versus racial preferences in public-university admissions — that the two situations “aren’t that analogous.”
They are certainly analogous to this extent: In both instances, the government is treating people differently because of skin color or what country someone (or someone’s ancestors) came from. Constitutional problems aside — and they are considerable — in an increasingly multiethnic and multiracial society, it is untenable to have a regime that sorts people by race and ethnicity, and treats some better and others worse on that basis.
Now, I don’t disagree that the stakes are different in the two situations, but I don’t think there should be a de minimis exception for racial discrimination. And I think that being treated differently by the police is far from de minimis. (I also don’t think that it is dispositive whether the discrimination is rational or not, by the way; the civil-rights statutes make it illegal for employers to make generalizations on the basis of race, regardless of whether it is rational for them to do so, and requires applicants to be treated as individuals — and rightly so.)
I have long opposed racial profiling in what I’ve written for NRO (although I’ve also made clear that a lot of what is called racial profiling by the Left really isn’t, because it is either misdefined or the facts aren’t there to support its existence). I’ve written about the subject here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
I have also written that an exception should be made in the terrorism context: Law-enforcement officials are entitled to be cut some slack when they are trying to stop mass murder and win wars. But I have stood by my earlier position that the costs of official racial discrimination are not justified just because the police may think it gives them an edge in fighting street crime.
And it is certainly not justified when the target is suspected not of mass murder, not of dealing drugs, but of nothing more than coming to this country (yes, illegally) to find work and a better way of life for himself and his family.
Finally, and critically: Note that the Arizona law has already been changed so that, on its face at least, it bans racial profiling, and the Arizona officials who made that change deserve credit for that. Whether it will be enforced in a race-neutral way remains to be seen, but hope springs eternal.


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