Profiling Is Not The Best Angle

Race, Justice, Prison, Barbed Wire, Black, Racial Profiling, Profile
What do a man in a tutu and clown shoes, someone dressed like Batman, and the guy next to me on a plane have in common? No, the answer is not, "I wish any of them were running for president this year instead of those other two guys." They all point out some security problems in general, and specifically, the folly of profiling for security purposes.

Last week, a man was able to get onto a balcony at Buckingham Palace while dressed like Batman.

At the Olympics, a man wearing a tutu and clown shoes was able to sneak into the pool area and dive into the water.

Recently, on a flight to Minneapolis-St. Paul, after we were in the air, the passenger next to me realized he had mistakenly gotten on the wrong plane. The flight attendants eased his embarrassment, and promised to get him (and his luggage) to St. Louis as quickly as possible after we landed in Minneapolis.

Were the security people at the Olympics and Buckingham Palace so busy looking for people who fit a specific description, that they didn't pay attention to those who just blended into the crowd — guys dressed like Batman or a ballerina in clown shoes? And would everyone have been so nice to the guy on my plane if he'd gotten on the wrong plane and had a mustache and a Middle Eastern accent?

For years, African-Americans have talked about being pulled over by police because of DWB — Driving While Black. Since 9/11, I imagine many people have been stopped at airports because of FWA — Flying While Arab. Putting discrimination and civil rights issues aside for a moment — something that some members of this administration have no problem doing for much longer than a moment — there is also another question about profiling: does it work?

After the Oklahoma City bombing, should police have started detaining every white American Army veteran driving a truck?

And don't forget the "They're Not Stupid" factor. Since the bad guys must know that we're vigilantly looking for people who resemble those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, I have a feeling that terrorists are smart enough to use people who don't look like those guys. Aren't they more likely to hire blond, blue-eyed women to do their dirty work? Should we, therefore, be suspicious of every Swedish woman we see?

During World War II, we shamelessly put thousands of Japanese-Americans in "camps" not because of their beliefs or past behavior, but just because of the way they looked. None of them turned out to be a spy for Japan. Imagine the unnecessary psychic and economic damage done to these people. And is it possible that the war would have been shortened and lives spared if all of these people had been allowed to participate at home and abroad?

The kind of profiling I'm not against is profiling people who have past criminal records or associate with violent groups. I promise I won't get impatient if the guy in front of me at the airport is detained because yesterday he bought a new hairbrush, some toothpaste, and, oh yeah, 4,000 pounds of fertilizer. I hope the security people don't buy his story that he's just very particular about his vegetable garden.

I'm not criticizing all the hard-working security people who are dedicated to keeping us safe. But profiling based on ethnicity and appearance is not the answer. It leads to bigotry and panic, and takes money and people away from protecting us from real dangers.

If the current approach isn't "revisited," as the politicians say, get ready for even longer lines at the airport. Using "profiling logic," they may start detaining everybody who likes to wear a Batman cape with a tutu who happens to speak with a Swedish accent. And you can just imagine how many people that description fits.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver