I was uneasy when some years back the term "racial profiling" wiggled its way into the language of police critiques, and stuck. To my ear, "profiling" has a vaguely sociological ring to it, as in, for example, the study of patterns of police misconduct.
What's wrong with words like "racism" or "racial discrimination"? Why soften the reprehensible ritual of police officers stopping and interrogating, citing or arresting people solely on the basis of race? Further, now that the term is radioactive it has tainted a useful label for all kinds of necessary and important police work.
Case in point: the killing of Dr. George Tiller. Is it not valuable for the police--not to mention those who perform legal abortions--to have a "profile" of those "pro-life" zealots who are bent on visiting violence against abortion providers?
Now that he is dead and buried, the physician who heroically took cases no other doctors would touch (including, most famously, that of a 9-year-old impregnated by her father), we must ask ourselves, What did we know about this killer? More to the point, what did the local police and the FBI know about Scott Roeder before he pulled the trigger in that Wichita church?
Turns out, law enforcement knew a slew about the man: his repeated acts of vandalism, his stalking of Dr. Tiller, his endless threats against the doctor, his conviction for carrying explosives in his car. His verbalized, before-the-act justification of wiping out abortion providers.
But did they "profile" him, using today's understanding of the expression? In other words, did they single Roeder out for special attention? Employ surveillance tactics, keep an eye on his comings and goings? Did they issue frank, no-nonsense warnings? Did they, for that matter, take seriously Tiller's concerns about the stepped up, worrisome protest activity taking place outside his clinic in the weeks leading up to his death?
There's an axiom in police circles: If someone is determined to kill another there's not a whole lot you can do about it.
Murder, at least certain forms of it, is an avertable crime. We now know, for example, that an effective, aggressive law enforcement response to domestic violence is murder prevention; the same can be said for certain types of stranger-on-stranger violence. Not all the time, of course. But often enough that the police, paying careful, sustained, individualized attention to people like Roeder, could dramatically reduce violence and save lives.
As far back as 1982, we learned that anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of all criminals commit approximately 80 percent of all (non-drug related) crimes. When a criminal like Scott Roeder establishes a clear pattern of violent and destructive behavior he cries out to be "profiled" by the police. Especially in an era when people like William James O'Reilly (whose Fox TV producers engage in their own form of stalking) demonize the legal conduct of doctors like George Tiller. (O'Reilly's smirking self-righteousness cannot mask the fact that he's helped inflame the passions and harden the criminal resolve of the fixated edges of the anti-reproductive rights movement.)
It's heartening to note that Attorney General Eric Holder has dispatched U.S. Marshals to abortion clinics across the country in order to provide an extra measure of protection and security.
But why does it take yet another killing to spur responsible law enforcement action?