Racial Profiling in Airports

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Racial profiling refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officers targeting individuals; with the primary justification of this targeting being an individual's race, ethnicity, religion or national origin. In practice, criminal profiling relies on the characteristics or criminal stereotype attached to members of a particular race, ethnicity or religion. An example of such stereotypes is the notion that ‘all terrorists are Muslims, but not all Muslims are terrorists.’

In operation, criminal profiling seeks to assert the truth of these stereotypes by subjecting members of a particular race, or religion to searches that go against the pre-qualified security protocol. This practice has become so rampant particularly in airports where airline security officials depart from their policy of random passenger searches to detain persons for inspection who appear to be from the Middle East. This practice raises serious constitutional concerns and appears to be in violation of the provisions and guarantees provided for by the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment protects all individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. The case of Terry V Ohio provided an interpretation and threshold as to circumstances when law enforcement officials can carry out searches. The Supreme court held that reasonable articulable suspicion was sufficient grounds for a police officer to briefly stop and question a citizen. However, such suspicion should not be based on an officer’s inchoate and unparticularized suspicion but should be based and justified by specific reasonable inferences which he is entitled to draw from facts and experience.

The case of United States V Brignoni Ponce went further to address the issue of race as a factor giving rise to reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The court established that the race of a suspect alone does not satisfy the constitutional minimum for an investigatory stop. To meet the constitutional minimum, the race of a suspect ought to be supported by erratic behavior or unusual behavior.

Advocates for the practice of criminal racial profiling argue that profiling qualifies as a necessary tool during an investigation where law enforcement officers rely on their training and experience to develop cases.

On the other hand, those opposed to the practice base their argument on morality. Their argument is founded on the guarantees and protections provided for by the constitution. Based on these guarantees, racial profiling is unconstitutional and a direct violation of civil rights and liberties guaranteed by the constitution. This argument is further justified by the fact that the Declaration of Human Rights and the Rule of Law expressly outlaw any practice that encourages prejudice. In essence, the race of a person should not be used as a basis to determine the rights that members of a particular race qualify for.


While we appreciate the fact that numbers do not lie, it is quite unfair for law enforcement officials to purport to apply different standards of care or different thresholds of what qualifies to be reasonable suspicion. Law exists to prescribe a uniform blanket for all its subjects and under no circumstances should this uniform application be prejudiced.

The fact that the nation faces an active threat of terrorist attacks from the Middle East and considering the fact the fears inflicted by the 9/ 11 attack are still vivid in our minds; should be the more reason that Law enforcement strategies should strive to maintain fairness and equality lest we will be playing right into the hands of the terrorists who base their anger on unfair and unequal treatment of minorities. The mere act of stopping a person based on his descent from the Middle East is Prejudicial and defeats the very purpose of justice, fairness, and equality.The United States of America and all law enforcement personnel should be the bigger person and continue to uphold the values, virtues, and practices that this country is founded upon.


  1. United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873 (1975)
  2. Terry v. Ohio:: 392 U.S. 1 (1968)
  3. https://www.csus.edu/indiv/f/friedman/sp2019/govt1/schedule/c/brown.htm
  4. https://www.csus.edu/indiv/f/friedman/sp2019/govt1/schedule/c/Roe%20v.htm
  5. https://www.csus.edu/indiv/f/friedman/sp2019/govt1/schedule/c/terror.htm
  6. https://www.csus.edu/indiv/f/friedman/sp2019/govt1/schedule/c/five-fifth's.htm 
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Racial Profiling in Airports. (2022, Jan 31). Retrieved November 28, 2023 , from

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