Thursday, March 25, 2010

A case of racial profiling or good policing?

Racial profiling involves targeting someone based on stereotypical assumptions about the usual offender for a particular offence. It can also be implicated where the police act unreasonably in looking for an identified suspect. For example, where they have a description of the suspect but focus only on race as opposed to the other descriptors.

Racial profiling can be conscious or subconscious. The former is more obvious but the latter is more common, and more complicated to curb. Both are unacceptable.They rely on stereotypes and spread prejudice, generate false positives, are socially divisive, and make us less safe not more. Racial profiling prejudges some to be innocent who could very well be guilty, and others guilty who could very well be innocent.

Was Slimane Zahaf the victim of racial profiling or did the police have reasonable grounds to suspect that he was in possession of the bomb? Was the description detailed enough? Assuming that they did take into account skin colour was this inappropriate in the case if the description had included this fact? Did the fact that he refused to provide his identification add to the suspicion calculus?

Here's what happened according to the media reports.

Last Tuesday, Slimane Zahaf went to Université du Québec à Montréal to pay his tuition, in a black coat, while Arab in appearance. Zahaf is working part time on his MBA.

Francine Jacques, spokeswoman for UQÀM, stated that campus security received a tip from a “third party” regarding a “person suspected of carrying a bomb”. Initially, Jacques said the possible bomber reportedly appeared Arab. She later stated the only “clear” information they had was that someone with short hair, wearing a black coat, might have a bomb.

There is a history of tragedy on Montréal campuses, look at Valery Fabrikant and Marc Lépine, and preventing another atrocity would make security and police ready to do just about anything within their power of discretion. First security, and then police, confronted someone they thought might have a bomb and probably believed they were risking their lives to save others. But Slimane Zahaf knew he had no bomb when he was detained, arrested, and pinned to the ground like a terrorist. He had back problems, and they were aggravated by the incident. He felt “humiliated” and isn’t sure he wants to go back to school.

Jacques said that Zahaf refused five requests to see his student identification. Most universities do have a policy that students carry their ID at all times in case an official asks to see it. They can sometimes ask you to leave campus if you don’t have it, for example, or give you zero on an exam. Jacques described Zahaf, a student suddenly approached by security while waiting to pay for a class, as “turbulent and agitated ... aggressive and arrogant”.

Zahaf claims he must have been racially profiled — he saw three other men in black coats in the vicinity who were not detained or arrested. According to Zahaf, these three men were white in appearance.

To be safe, shouldn't all men in the area have been questioned?

Posted by Gavin Wolch (Windsor Law I)

No comments:

Post a Comment