When it comes to national security and profiling, it seems the government just doesn't get it. Time and time again, efforts to identify suspicious individuals based on race, religion, ethnicity, etc., are shown to be not only inefficient, but also ineffective when it comes to protecting our nation against security threats. Now these controversial programs are being ruled as unconstitutional as well.
Last Monday, the NYPD received a devastating blow to its "Stop and Frisk" policy when a federal judge ruled it violated the constitutional rights of minorities, particularly those of black and Hispanic men. In her decision, the judge stated that the practice, which involved stopping suspicious-looking individuals and searching them on the streets, disregarded the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizures by the government as well as the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause, as it disproportionately targeted minorities over whites.
Despite the fact that nearly 90 percent of such stops resulted in the suspect being released without the officers finding any basis for summons or arrest, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood by the program and vowed to appeal the ruling. He stated that Stop and Frisk was responsible for "historic cuts in crime" and had saved numerous lives. Investigative reports, however, have failed to back his claim and are unclear on this connection, even going so far as to say the program causes diminishing effects over time. The policy's serious breach of civil liberties, though, is crystal clear.
Stop and Frisk isn't the only blemish of its type on Bloomberg's record. He and the NYPD were sued last month by Muslim religious and community leaders, mosques, and charitable organizations that were monitored by undercover NYPD informants. The lawsuit requests the court to declare such behavior unconstitutional and to order the destruction of related records. A similar suit was filed last year in New Jersey and included among its plaintiffs a Muslim student from Rutgers University, one of the many campuses on the East Coast that discovered that the activities and members of their Muslim Students Associations were being secretly monitored by the NYPD.
The federal government is not exactly in the clear when it comes to profiling, either. News of a Defense Department agency training program made headlines last week for its method of identifying insider threats. The training, in addition to mentioning expected potential indicators such as difficult life circumstances, criminal behavior, and an unusual interest in classified information, also includes more puzzling factors such as "unreported foreign contact and travel" and "divided loyalty or allegiance to the U.S."
One character in the training, "Hema," was listed as "High Threat" because she visited family in India twice a year, spoke about her unhappiness with U.S. foreign policy, and had her car repossessed.
Call me crazy, but since when did dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the government indicate one was disloyal to the U.S.? Many Americans oppose various government programs and policies, such as Obamacare, TSA regulations, immigration policy, and abortion, but that does not automatically equate them to a high threat. By issuing such a training, the federal government appears to be supporting homogeneous employees who agree with all government views and discouraging critical thinking or a diversity of ideas by dissenters that would only serve to make our system stronger.
Finally, in today's global world, people are traveling constantly and may have friends or family outside our nation's borders. Communicating or visiting them does not necessarily make them a source of concern. Thankfully, the training, which interestingly enough received only one complaint from its millions of federal employee participants, is being revised. The new version will be released in October, this time with more emphasis on behavior rather than personal characteristics or beliefs.
This is definitely a step in the right direction. While a person's background should not be completely disregarded when it comes to determining security risks, it also shouldn't be the most determining factor. Our tax dollars would be better spent following legitimate leads from a person's actions rather than from how they dress, worship, or what ethnic or religious background they hail from. Security threats come in all shapes and sizes, and a "one size fit all" approach encouraged by profiling not only entails a violation of civil liberties, but it also simply isn't nuanced enough to succeed in keeping us safe. And at the end of the day, isn't that the ultimate goal?
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