Politics & Policy

Profiling Silliness

Racial-profiling hysteria in the hunt for terrorists.

And now . . . we fight.

As I write this Saddam Hussein’s 48-hour deadline has passed, and there are now reports that unnamed “Iraqi leaders” have found themselves the targets of American cruise missiles. In due season, be it hours, days, or months hence, Hussein will have died, capitulated, or seen his country reduced to cinders. And at this hour thousands upon thousands of brave young Americans, among them some of my friends and coworkers from the LAPD, await the order that will hurl them into the hell of war.

And still, here at home, the silliness continues. Some politicians, spouting gibberish in the guise of good government, now ask how long the war will last and how much it will cost. To ask these questions is to betray one’s ignorance, for the answers are elementary: It will last until we are victorious, and it will cost as much as it takes to achieve the victory. The price of defeat would be incalculably greater.

But silliness, alas, is not confined to politics. Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles, a few hundred protesters, many of them high-school students taking a break from the rigors of a public-school education, marched down Wilshire Boulevard and clashed with police, either mindless or uncaring of the fact that their efforts served no end but to comfort those who, if given the merest opportunity, would murder them in their beds.

As the battle for Iraq is joined we are reminded that our enemies have threatened to strike us anywhere in the world, and we recall the reports that there may be hundreds of Al Qaeda operatives here in America waiting for orders to carry out God knows what sort of barbarities. And why would they not be here? Despite the channeling of billions of dollars into the new Department of Homeland Security, our borders remain as porous as ever, and anyone with even a modest amount of initiative can stroll right into the United States with little fear of detection or apprehension. So, we at home are asked to be vigilant and report suspicious persons and activity to the FBI or local police departments, many of whose members have been called upon to conduct surveillance on potential terrorists.

And who is a potential terrorist? That was the question asked by the instructor at a recent LAPD training session I attended. Like many in the business world, we police officers are periodically directed to attend in-service training sessions, the value of which is usually little more than the chance to spend a day or two away from our normal duties. But a few weeks ago, with America moving toward the conflict now underway, I attended a training session intended to prepare LAPD officers for a terrorist attack involving nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. Surely, I thought, with the threat of such an attack no longer the abstraction it may have been only months ago, any discussion of the sensitivities of this or that racial group will be abandoned in favor of some frank talk about just who our enemies are.

This was not to be.

“What does a terrorist look like?” asked the instructor. For God’s sake, I thought, here it comes. I held my tongue, for I knew at once that the seeds of a column had fallen on fertile soil. But I was tempted to point out that, though there are various terrorist organizations scattered throughout the world, from Basque separatists to Filipino guerillas, for a quick answer to that question one need but visit the FBI’s website, where can be found photos of the 22 most wanted terrorist suspects. And you know what? There isn’t a single Basque or Filipino in the lot. No Colombian communists or Tamil Tigers, either, for that matter, just a bunch of Middle Eastern men with dark skin and names like Ahmad, Abdul, and Mohammed. A classmate proffered the hypothetical scenario of a Middle Eastern man with a backpack loitering near a synagogue. Would it not be appropriate for the prudent police officer to approach him and inquire into his business? No, answered the instructor, not if the man’s ethnicity played any part in the officer’s decision to question him. Yes, we were asked to believe that the next terrorist here in America could be pretty much anyone. Her support for this argument was partly based on the fact that — I’m not making this up — one of the terrorists on the television program “24″ is an attractive blond woman. The LAPD, it seems, is not immune to silliness.

Fortunately, this instructor and others of her stripe see the outside of a police station only for as long as it takes to go to lunch every day. The rest of us, those of us taken off the streets and made to sit and listen to this drivel, have surrendered neither our common sense nor our desire to act on it when necessary.

And so we pray for a swift victory for our armed forces now poised in the desert half a world away. And if our enemies choose in their depravity to bring the war to America, we pray that the hysteria over “racial profiling” can be put aside, if only for as long as it takes to deter the attacks that no doubt have already been planned.

— Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.


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