Sunday, July 31, 2005

Racial Profiling & Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

Too often, people think with their hearts, not their minds. Terrorists take advantage of this, and know that despite the suspicion many may have of their actions, those same people will be afraid to verify their suspicions because they do not want to offend anybody. While this can be a noble trait, it is a far more stupid and dangerous one.
I'm not sure which of these two sentences troubles me more:
By 63 percent to 24 percent, voters approve of police using a shoot-to-kill policy if they believe it is necessary to prevent detonation of a bomb or some other type of attack.

Overall views are more divided on the use of racial profiling: 42 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove.

The second statement touches upon a major issue that will always trouble whoever is more likely to be profiled at a higher rate than those that are not: Hence,
Whites are evenly split (46 percent for both approve and disapprove), while non-whites are more than twice as likely to disapprove of profiling than approve (24 percent approve and 65 percent disapprove).

While this is an expected response to a divisive question, a high percentage of people are missing the point. While it may be more 'fair' to not target one group more than another, the loss of time and manpower in searching people extremely unlikely to be committing a terrorist act is huge - and stupid.
There was an article in the Five Towns Jewish Times this past Friday that put the issue into proper perspective: It asked a series of multiple choice-questions, each in reference to a terrorist attack. Who killed Robert Kennedy? Who kidnapped and killed athletes at the 1971 Munich Games? Who killed 3,000 people on September 11th, 2001 in New York? Who blew up three trains and a bus in London on July 7th? Who blew up Sbarro's pizzeria in Jerusalem, and a nightclub in Bali? And so on, and so on. Each question had four choices, the last one being: "Muslim Arab males between 25 and 40 years old." And therein lies the key: If each attack is carried out by a similiar group of people, most (though not all, as they may attempt to disguise themselves) of the people who are checked should be of that same ethnic and/or religious group.
But what is far more troubling is the first statement. The question FoxNews posed in their poll was: "If police or security officials believe it is necessary to shoot a suspect in order to prevent detonation of a bomb or some other type of attack, do you approve of them using a 'shoot to kill' policy?" 63% responded 'Yes', 24% 'No', and 13% were not sure. That means up to 37% of the people who answered this question would gamble tens, hundreds, or even thousands of lives for the life of a suspect the police have deemed a serious threat.
This is absolute craziness. For example, there was a tragic instance recently in London where security officials shot and killed a man who was running from them. It turned out the man was not a terrorist, and was killed unnecessarily. However, the man had been wearing a heavy overcoat in the middle of the summer, and had run from police despite warnings to halt or they would fire on him. To try and twist the issue into whether or not the man was a terrorist is idiocy: If out of every ten men in the same situation, just one turned out to be a terrorist, one would essentially be saying that they are willing to allow dozens or more to be murdered because of the fear that they may make a mistake. One cannot allow their fears of being wrong to cloud their thoughts: It is far more logical to risk the death of one suspected individual than the lives of hundreds of innocents. This is especially true in instances such as the one in London. The man there was dressed in an extremely unusual manner, was acting suspiciously, and ran when the police tried to stop him. What possible reason can one give that would outweigh the risks that such a person poses to the lives of everybody else!?
[As to the five shots to the head, I was not there; but I would assume that no more than 2-3 was from any single officer, and officers are taught to shoot more than once at a time in case they miss. This is especially true where the suspect may have a bomb, which even a spasm might detonate. People have a tendency to think that what they see in the movies is what happens in real life. In reality, officers don't have 20 seconds of slow-mo to determine that their first shot killed the suspect. The 5 shots could very well have been fired in less than 2 seconds from 3 guns.]
To stop terrorism, people need to be smart. In Israel, they search every person's bag upon entering a bus station, a mall, or even many restaurants and cafes. But the people they choose to give more thorough searches to are almost always Arab or those who look somewhat Arabic, and more often men than women. Israel is known for the constant barrage of terror attacks it lives through - but what is far less known is the percentage of attacks that are stopped. Less than 10% of all terrorist attempts in Israel succeed. This is an incredible rate. This is largely due to two major Israeli policies: Shoot first and racial profiling. These policies have helped Israeli intelligence and security forces stop hundreds of bomb, shooting, and suicide attacks on Israeli civilians, savings thousands of lives. The United States and its allies need to adopt or strengthen similiar policies, policies which will allow them to avert major crisis. Until they do, we are far more vulnerable to attack.


  1. I couldn't have said it better myself.

  2. I did not say it is okay to shoot an innocent man, nor that it is not regrettable that this man was shot. However, police must have a shoot-to-kill policy if someone is a possible terrorist suspect. When someone is wearing a heavy overcoat in the middle of summer, and then proceeds to run from police, jumping a turnstile, they are a prime suspect. Can you live with your conscience more if you shoot the man and he turns out to be innocent? Or if you don't and he blows himself up, killing 20 other people - perhaps your neighbor, your wife, or your child.

  3. As always, thanks for the post!
    As I noted in other posts and the comments on them, which you may be in the process of reading as I write this, I don't think profiling will stop all attacks, for exactly the same type of examples as you gave; but I do think it will dramatically reduce them.
    Second, the terrorists do not need much fuel to recruit more people - they are doing their best to recruit as many people as possible regardless.
    Third, stun guns are very ineffective - a glancing blow will immediately encourage a terrorist to set off a bomb; and worse, the stunner may actually help detonate the bomb itself, either by setting off a charge or just shaking the terrorist to the point that the terrorist accidently sets it off himself.