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Rick Santorum Has Questionable Rhetoric Concerning Racial Profiling

What has been the most frightening moment in the Republican presidential debates? Maybe it was the roaring cheers in response to people dying without life insurance. Or perhaps it was the vicious heckling of a gay soldier who asked for the right to be open about his sexual orientation. Or maybe it was the string of calls for a war against Iran and China.

All are legitimate fears, but only one places a serious threat on our fundamental liberties and our devotion to the rule of law.

A few debates back, former Senator Rick Santorum candidly stated that racial profiling – using race or ethnicity as a means for enforcement – is an essential, successful, and justifiable practice. Not only is this a direct attack on freedom for many Americans, but it is also a dangerous, illogical, and socially destructive strategy.

The most basic argument is simple: Even if you could prove, for example, that criminals are more likely to be black, that does not take away the possibility of the next serial killer being white. Explicitly making clear that we will neglect certain groups in law enforcement makes crime an elementary task. We do not want to have our intelligence and enforcement efforts completely contingent on a person's race, but rather evidence and tips.

But assume we were 100% sure that the next terrorist attack was coming from a Muslim, and that the person would not be wearing a disguise. Still, it would be difficult to argue that racial profiling is appropriate.

Naturally, law enforcement leads to some innocent people being pulled over, questioned, arrested, or even convicted by authorities. If we direct enforcement at specific groups, those legal burdens will lie solely on a select group of people.

Not only is that flat-out unfair, it will also attack the social fabric of the overall community. Statistics and studies will come out showing that Muslims, for example, are getting pulled over and arrested far more than other groups. Without question, the result would be a social backlash, leading to false conceptions about different cultures and misled bigotry.

Moreover, profiling specific groups will encourage an untrustworthy and disrespectful attitude towards authorities. Targeted groups will feel unprotected and unrepresented by police and other enforcement officers, and may begin to express a disregard for their authority, or worse, take enforcement efforts into their own hands.

Targeting one group over another is also unconstitutional. One of the most recognizable amendments to the Constitution, the Fourteenth, prohibits the denial “to any person ... the equal protection of the laws.” Racial profiling, by definition, places a far more demanding legal strain on a select group(s) of people. The Constitution has few direct answers, but racial profiling seems to be one of them.

There is also a more personal, demanding objection to racial profiling. When asked which races or ethnicities he would target through law enforcement, Senator Santorum responded, decisively, that Muslims require far more legal attention. It was easy for me, a Jewish American, to share the fear and disheartenment so deeply engraved in Santorum’s remark.

 I would like everyone to imagine, for a moment, what it would feel like to hear your country’s leaders declare that your group of people is dangerous, and undeserving of equality and freedom. You may not have done anything wrong, but you are still considered too much of a threat, too likely to attack our nation, that we just cannot treat you the same. 

Mr. Santorum, your response?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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