Addressing the issue of racial profiling on campus

Emmett Fleming
Guest Columnist 

We are met with a couple clear distinctions about profiling at VCU: One, suspicion is placed on the singled-out race and two, division is inevitable among the community at large and distracts us from effectively handling the outcomes of the crimes. Apart from these concerns, profiling can help build an identity of crime and is necessary for that reason. But if profiling is not used appropriately then we have bastardizations of it, like racial profiling, which leads to stereotyping a race.

The VCU Police Department has no set policy on profiling and neither does the university.

The university is scrambling to find a solution to the issue of crime on and near campus and all attempts to solve the problem have been effective enough, for now.

My concern, however, is with the wrongful treatment of African-American men and to further discuss this, we must delve deeper to see the complexity of the VCU PD’s response to crime on campus. Only then can we make an accurate assessment on how to handle profiling and its ugly brother, racial profiling. My judgement leads me to believe one cannot exist without the other. The solution is not to rid profiling from police use, but to minimize the use of it.

Profiling is a tool for law enforcers to build an identity of a criminal. Our community assumes a series of appropriate questions will be asked in order to build such a identity. For example, profiling is part of a behavioral science used to determine the suspect’s motive and whereabouts. It can be done through thorough questioning of a suspect’s appearance. The problem is when the questions are not asked and assumptions are made about the suspect’s appearance. From these profiles, VCU can see what crime looks like in Richmond.

Are we safer because of profiling? The invisible safety net the VCU PD has created as a means of securing the campus, including alert text messages, patrols and security cameras, has become a constant reminder of crime on campus, if word-of-mouth was not enough for us. There is no way to prevent crime from occurring and no way to properly identify the perpetrators of those crimes, but the community wants to come as close as possible to mitigate any uncertainty about VCU’s safety for comfort. Unfortunately, that is a difficult task.

There are not enough security cameras, well-lit streets or patrolling policemen to arrest our fears. Crime is pulpy, without form and exists in a variety of conditions. The appearance of the drivers of these crimes is just as fickle. Profiling can be a good tool to single out suspicious individuals.

The VCU PD has found a few temporary fixes to crime. Sending off crime alters, doing nightly patrols and installing panic buttons, has provided the community with a tighter sense of security. For some, it seems like the presence of these measures has acted as a suppressant for our immediate fears.

That is, however, the problem; It’s not that the VCU PD doesn’t serve a purpose, but they apparently are more concerned about fighting crime. They should put criminal deterrence first in our community, then focus on protecting the community.

The two are not the same. Doing both would dampen the effectiveness of either of these attempts and what would be left is a compromise of two philosophies. This is one key problem with them. VCU PD’s service is mostly in reaction to a crime alert.

Since a criminal does not have a particular appearance, a criminal could be a student or a non-student. Profiling feels redundant after a while. Racial profiling seems like a necessary evil in their minds. I’m dearly sorry to those hurt by these crime-fighting methods. Unless there is an innovation in fighting crime, racial profiling may exist for some time without slowing down.

We must be vigilant in order to ensure protection for the student body. We have seen many wrongdoings at VCU; we seek an answer and until there is an answer, we will keep asking questions.

One Response to “Addressing the issue of racial profiling on campus”

  1. I am and always have been thoroughly confused by discussions like these. What does the columnist mean? 'Why is 'racial profiling' wrong?' Does not seem to be answered in this column. I have found that there are many definitions to 'racial profiling' which is troublesome when trying to form an argument against or for it. Some definitions call racial profiling a bias based upon race which causes the officer to stop, question, arrest, etc. the person in context. Another definition says that race is used merely as a factor in the officer's decision to engage in enforcement. So the question is: Is it wrong? One might say yes, because it is discriminating the person's race against all other races. One might say no however, under weaker arguments, because one's race does play a role in the larger spectrum of crime, for example, statistics can help to identify which types of people: sex, race, and so on may cause crime. However, in light of this, it is not entirely fair to approach one solely on the basis of race. But what of it as a factor? What do we say to that? Further, on a different approach: how often does an officer base his enforcement solely on race or on race at all? We will need statistics before we can really talk about whether this is a major issue. Of what percentage of law enforcement is racial profiling present, or perhaps, is this simply a touchy issue which, when even one occurrence of it shows its face causes chatter? These are my questions, I hope to raise awareness however that one's race does play a very large role in social affairs and that stereotypes are not just make-believe nor are they socially constructed. Stereotypes are based off of reality; based off of the majority or common occurrence of a thing. So we know it is quite natural to discriminate (not necessarily harmfully) toward a particular characteristic and much like domestic violence is considered a male dominated area, so too does crime have its dominant characteristics such as those in poverty, lack of parental supervision, and so on. For example, think of if you are out late at night, which is when most all crimes seem to occur, and a man approaches you in a very long jacket. Wouldn't you be scared of this man? What with all the stories and crime alerts of cloaked men mugging, killing or what-ever. So the officers then stop to question any man they see at night wearing a long jacket in hopes of reducing crime rates. In this way, I think we can understand why officers may 'racially profile' someone, it is because of statistics, not because of any racism. Crime stats aren't lying, nor are the year-to-year experiences of these officers. In other words, these officers know the usual suspects. So if people of a community have a problem with a bad stereotype, we must fix them. Stereotypes are based off of actions and reality, so you can't wipe them away, you change them, morph them into something better by shedding light on the issue or stopping the issue altogether. Just my two cents on this…again, we must change stereotypes over time through our communities, we cannot wipe them away. The largest causal factor of crime I would guess is how a child is raised: are the parents there? Are the parents supportive? And it follows back generations: were his/her parents there? We they supportive? So the change starts now, parents need to raise their children better as a good start