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Dennis Santiago Headshot

Profiling, the Internet and the 'Frailties of Man'

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These are strange days indeed. If one reads this weekend's news, one gets the feeling that America is on the verge of a racial civil war. The buzz of the gossip that won't make it past the censors of either mainstream or social media is riots by August and the mainstream media wants it to happen so badly they can taste it. There will martial law in the urban ghettos. Civil rights squashed for everyone else in the interest of the perpetuation of the stability of the state as an alternative to chaos. Try to disarm the populace and hope for the best. Chaos will ensue anyway.

We seem to be dashing to a cliff that will undo a half-century of social integration; the crumbling of the Great Society into a rabble of factions. Perhaps even the dissolution of the Union itself. A friend who lived through the fall of the Soviet Union remarked to me that the pattern is eerily similar. My historian friends remind me that we may just be another failed superpower that bites the dust after a hundred years of glory to be followed -- as the histories of flash in the pan empires have shown over and over again -- by a long and arduous decline.

All of it is silly academic hyperbole if you step back from it but so many people are "drunk on too much Internet" these days and the weakminded among us think the kabuki is as real as zombies. We are like children playing in dangerous cyberspace with keyboards as potent as guns. There's no shortage of fools and zealots across the entire political spectrum of America right now. Everyone believes they are right. We are all so wrong.

The poignant marker I try to watch in such phenomenon is the loss of social cohesion. We've become a people who see ourselves as mortal enemies. We profess visions of egalitarian utopia but practice the antithesis of it. Instead we covet political, cultural and economic separatism driven by the lust for power. We want to be better than our equals. It is vanity of the worst kind. We refuse to consider those who think differently as human and wish for separate and not necessarily equal social stature over each other in some sort of macabre zero-sum game. The losers get to suffer their demise to a third world underclass and that's somehow fine to make sure the winners get their spoils.

We are cowards as we erode what made America great. This country in parts is not greater than the American Dream as a whole. It saddens me that it has become shameful to say in the presence of one's faction that tolerance and respect for others is a virtue. The truth is we are nothing without it. The truth is those who would divide us for their special interest are our real domestic enemies. They are the ones who need to be ferreted out and cast from power. The Egyptians seemed to have figured it out fairly quickly but then again they are a four thousand year old culture aren't they? We are so young. Because of our own prophets of division, we stereotype each other and demand we fit into uncomfortable communal definitions under the imperious glower of political correctness. In other words, we have become a nation of profilers.

I've watched us soothsay ourselves into the belief that we "profile for good reasons." It's not true. We profile for expedient reasons just like all the others who have done it before us.

In the decade after the LA Riots of 1992, I helped the police embark on a program to recruit an army of neighborhood watchers. It wasn't the only thing I've done to help out but it's the one I'll dwell on here. The people's mission was -- and is -- to profile suspicious people and report it to the police. The targets were criminals. The people responded. The nation adopted it. People like George Zimmerman joined the cause. He did exactly the kind of profiling the federal Volunteers In Policing program says is the right thing to do. He picked out what looked to be a miscreant and ignited a nuclear bomb. Everyone wanted to be safe. Everyone wanted the bad people to go away. The consequence is that we caught a lot more criminals. We overcrowded the jails. We created the basis for federal consent decrees to release miscreants under court order. Ask Jerry Brown how that's going for California.

The thing about community policing that a lot of people have forgotten is that it's an adaptive process. Both sides adapt. Weird stuff happens. Our jail system became a taxpayer funded junior college education camp for career criminals. Our mental health system just shut down creating a public breeding ground for ticking time bombs. The "sane" criminals -- yes that's an odd way to put it -- learned to be more organized and bolder -- even coming to believe they have a right to predate upon the populace -- and then we needed stand your ground defenses more than ever. We've never really thought through the stoichiometry of the process of crime management in strategic terms. We never really addressed the question of how to convince miscreants to change their ways. Instead we muddled. We still are.

A decade later, we doubled down on profiling. This time everyone became suspicious. After September 11, 2001, the entire country embarked on a homeland security mission. There were hot lines, special task forces, entirely new bureaucracies and technologies with billion dollar budgets. Again government's and the people's mission was to profile suspicious people. Everyone with an opinion became part of some sort of terrorist or militia cell. The First Amendment has become a security risk.

Green, Orange, Yellow and Red. As with all self-interested things, we've lost sight of the fact that we can never really win the war against what Osama Bin Laden did to us until the day we are Green again; when we don't worry about everyone slightly different from us being some sort of international or domestic terrorist. When airports are no longer places where one must live with the police state specter of, "Your papers please." We are a long way from being the "Land of the Free" again. Until then, the dreamers of caliphate hegemony will gloat at us.

The Internet has done us no favors in this regard. We can now express our ideas and amplify them. Viral storms abound. But, is there any wisdom in any of it? We have no idea how much damage we cause to each other as we revel in our glib like pigs in mud. Profiling. It's one of our favorite tools to deal with our fears. We are so proud of ourselves as we destroy each other's freedoms. We are only destroying ourselves.

I struggle trying to find answers to this. I do not want my country to begin that long and arduous decline.