“Common Sense” Profiling

I am re-posting the following article I wrote in 2005.

On January 19th, 2005, I watched a program on CNN entitled, “Defending America”. The program aired during the Anderson Cooper 360 show. In it, CNN’s Drew Griffin interviewed Michael Touhey the American Airlines ticket agent who sold tickets to Mohammed Atta and his henchman.


The most compelling part of the show, to me, was that the first thing Mr. Touhey thought when Atta approached his counter was, “if these two don’t look like terrorists, I don’t know who does” (paraphrased). Yet, despite his “gut feeling”, he issued tickets to both. In fact, he said that his second thought was of shame for judging based on his “gut feeling” and their appearance.

Thus, he faced a “catch-22” situation that has been imposed by our country’s incessant quest for political correctness and tolerance. If he questions their motives, he is likely to face a reprimand for “racially profiling.” If he issues tickets, he runs the risk of letting two individuals who may be terrorists, on board the plane. Unfortunately for hundreds of people that day, he erred on the side of political correctness.


Of course Mr. Touhey would take it all back were he given the chance today. So this brings us to the question, if hindsight is 20-20 would he be correct in calling the authorities to check out the two men? Of course, the rational among us emphatically scream, “YES!” However, if this is the case, why do we still not allow our law enforcement officers to do the same?


The answer is because the “deafening minority” is louder than the “silent majority”. Anytime there is the appearance of a law enforcement officer singling out a minority, this relatively small minority of people (or groups like the ACLU or MALDEF) cry foul.


Is it safe to assume then, that those opposed to allowing law enforcement officers to use their experience (aka “gut feelings”) and profiling techniques to question individuals would still want Mr. Touhey to issue the tickets? Doing otherwise would be to “racially profile” according to some people.


Which way do we want it? Because, we cannot have it both ways. Do we continue to cower in the face of the “deafening minority,” or use “common sense” profiling to thwart crimes in our nation?


I liken the situation to the inland immigration enforcement operations (aka “sweeps”) that occurred in June of 2004 in southern California. When, once again, the “deafening minority” cried foul to Asa Hutchinson and the sweeps were stopped, a human rights commission was convened in Riverside, CA to discuss the appropriate methods for our law enforcement officers to use when identifying potential illegal aliens (or other criminals for that matter). At that meeting, I reasoned with the commission that the techniques used by immigration officials should be similar to those of vice officers when picking up prostitutes.


If the law enforcement officers see a group of scantily clad women (a subjective assessment) at night approaching cars that stop by the side of the road, in an area known for prostitution, their reasonable conclusion is that these women are prostitutes. Likewise, if immigration officers see a bunch of men in work clothes (another subjective assessment) on the side of the road approaching pick-up trucks as they come by and leaving in those trucks, their reasonable conclusion is that these men are illegal aliens.


It is entirely possible for the women to be tourists asking for directions, just like it is possible for the men to be American citizens looking for work. With the presumption that there can always be doubt about these conclusions, why can vice make these judgment calls and immigration and local law enforcement officials not be allowed to do so?

We need our public officials to reassure the law enforcement community that they will be defended by their federal, state and local governments, should a group like ACLU or MALDEF bring suit against them for using “common sense” profiling. We need to begin standing up for each other when we see someone wrongly labeled as a “racist” with the not-so-hidden-agenda of silencing them. We cannot continue to let the “deafening minority” dictate the security—or lack thereof–of our country and usurp our laws to suit their purpose.