Profiling cuts across racial lines; self-defense still a basic right

  • Posted: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 12:01 a.m.

Rev. Joseph Darby’s July 18 op-ed titled “Profiling evidence abounds” makes some very valid points, and some that are not so valid. That many Americans, both black and white, “profile” is hardly a profound observation, assuming that by “profiling” we mean assigning preconceived behavioral characteristics simply to another’s appearance.

Indisputably, many white citizens attribute stereotypical behavior patterns to black citizens; but no more so than black citizens stereotype whites.

To say that it always occurs is as wrong as to maintain it never does. So, too, to condemn it as a law enforcement tool is as myopic as to insist that it always is put to legitimate use by law enforcement.

The truth is that “profiling” will never be eliminated altogether, nor should it be, and “profiling” will never be universally embraced, which is also probably a good thing.

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman both indulged in some degree of “profiling” — whether based on race, on dress code, on surrounding circumstances, or, most likely, on all of the above. Both exercised bad judgment: Zimmerman for exiting his automobile after being told to stay put; Martin for choosing confrontation over a hasty retreat.

Two wrongs led to an unspeakable tragedy — not a crime, mind you, nor even a civil rights violation, but an unspeakable tragedy. The American justice system rightly determined that Trayvon’s death was a justifiable homicide, that George Zimmerman was reasonably in fear of his life when he, in self-defense, discharged the single shot that took Trayvon Martin’s life.

Rev. Darby maintains that the “not guilty” verdict is further evidence that “American justice is not color blind.” That is a tough case to make, seeing as neither George nor Trayvon was white, both were minorities, and, according to the prosecution and the defense, the “color” of neither played a role in the incident, the trial, or the verdict.

To be sure, as Rev. Darby points out, black men disproportionately find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

That hardly suggests a biased American justice system, but rather one that judges the crime, not the skin color of the perpetrator. It is a sad but irrefutable fact that if more black males are responsible for more crimes, disproportionately, then more of them will wind up inside our prisons, disproportionately.

Rev. Darby also expresses discomfort with Florida’s “stand your ground” statute. Yet that statute was not even involved in the Zimmerman case. Perhaps more to the point, self-defense has always been a bedrock principle of our criminal justice system — available, and routinely invoked, by blacks and whites alike. When to “cut and run” is no longer a realistic option, self-defense becomes the operative imperative. In more than 22 states standing your ground in such circumstances is settled law; in the others, it is justifiably regarded as common sense.

Rev. Darby adds the observation that most black parents still have “the talk” with their children “on how to be inordinately careful, courteous and all but subservient when stopped by the police, lest something tragic happens.”

I will respectfully share with the good reverend the not-so-well-kept secret that most white parents still have the same “talk” with their children. Good for them all. Law enforcement comes in all sizes, shapes and colors.

Let us hope that the present generation continues to preach to upcoming generations that these men and women who dedicate their lives to fighting crime in our communities deserve our utmost respect, courtesy and cooperation.

William B. Reynolds

Oyster Catcher Court

Seabrook Island



Mr. Reynolds is a former assistant attorney general, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice (1981-88).

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