4. Race and Crime
Racial profiling is the use of race by police and border security to select subjects for surveillance, detention, and/or arrest. Studies have shown that racialised people—especially Black people—are ticketed for motor vehicle violations, charged for possession of controlled substances, brought to a police station, and given overnight stays in police detention at a rate greater than that of White people (Rankin, 2002; Alexander, 2010). Racial profiling has come under scrutiny as a police tool because it is understood that police use stereotypes and bias to conduct the business of public safety.
Canadian research regarding police and race is overwhelmingly focused on the issue of racial profiling and the use/abuse of racialisation as a policing tool. Within this body of research, tension exists between two polarities: 1) scholarship that reveals the presence and practice of bias in racial profiling and 2) scholarship that disputes racial profiling as a racist practice or as a practice embedded within racial bias (Gabor, 2004; Gold, 2003; Stenning, 2011; Wortley & Tanner, 2003; Wortley & Tanner, 2005). The former involves research demonstrating that particular ethno-racial groups are subject to greater surveillance and policing than non-racialised groups (i.e., “White”), while the latter defends practices of profiling as valid tools of police work that are not premised on racial bias. Some criminologists, like Thomas Gabor, argue that race or ethnicity is part of a criminal profile and that race-based selection is a legitimate policing tool. In this regard, Gabor would support the profiling and detention of Shereen Hassan because the identification of her ethnicity or race is a legitimate use of race as a tool of criminal investigation and/or border control.
A common problem with studies of racial profiling is that the research seldom differentiates between different racial minorities (e.g., African-Canadians, Chinese-Canadians, Japanese-Canadians, South Asian-Canadians) and in so doing suggests that non-White people are merely a single homogeneous “other.” The study of racial profiling often does not present a clear or consistent reference point regarding who or what constitutes a race or a racialised person (i.e., a “Black” person). For example, in many Canadian studies that focus on the way African-Canadians are treated differently by police services, they do not define who and/or why someone is “Black” (Mosher, 1996; Henry & Tator, 2005; Satzewich & Shaffir, 2009; Tanovich, 2002). In so doing, the research unwittingly creates methodological ambiguity regarding the—Black—subject/object of racialisation. Although we can agree that Shereen Hassan was racially profiled at border crossings, studies of racial profiling at borders seldom explain how that process of racial profiling actually occurs through the profiling of name, race, religion, nationality, skin colour, facial features, language and/or accent. For a recent examination of discriminatory practices at the border, see 1 in 4 border officers witnessed colleagues discriminate against travellers: internal report.
the use of race—by the criminal justice system—as the basis for criminal suspicion. This term is often associated with policing. It can be understood as describing race-based policing, or race-biased policing, where police use racial appearance as a deciding factor in who to select for stopping, questioning, searching, detaining, and arrest. Outside of this reference to policing, it can also be used to describe an intentional and deliberate consideration of race that negatively impacts racial minorities in the form of increased contact with public and/or private authorities. That is, it might manifest itself as a) the activity of selecting or examining a racial minority at a rate of selection that is higher and incommensurate with their demographic representation and/or b) attributing racial and stereotypical characteristics to a subject in a manner that is illogical and/or not based on empirical examination.