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article imageOp-Ed: Profiling and common sense

By Alexander Baron     Jul 15, 2013 in Politics
Sanford - One of the most ludicrous claims made about George Zimmerman before and during his recent trial was that he "profiled" Trayvon Martin. What exactly does this entail?
George Zimmerman has now been acquitted, and whether or not we like it, we should accept the verdict. Zimmerman was said to have shot and killed Martin primarily because he profiled him as a young black male who was up to no good, a burglar, potential burglar or some such, something neither he nor anyone should ever do. The prosecution was not permitted to use the term "racially profiled", but what precisely does profiling entail?
Profiling means to extrapolate information about something or someone based on known qualities. That is all.
Profiling is something we all do every day usually in benign circumstances; we judge by appearances, and frequently we get it wrong. So what? In 1991, Rukhsana Khan was attacked by a pit bull terrier that nearly tore off her face; fifteen years later she told the local press she was still terrified of dogs. Is that or is that not understandable? Whenever she sees a dog - any dog - her childhood memories come flooding back. Most of us don't profile dogs in that fashion, but police officers - including wannabes - tend to profile ordinary people in many ways.
George Zimmerman saw a black male wearing a hooded shirt acting in what he considered to be a suspicious manner; was that racial profiling? If he had seen an elderly black woman walking with a cane, would he still have called the police?
Zimmerman's reaction was paranoid but it was not that unreasonable. If it had been the height of summer and he had seen Martin - or anyone - walking through his neighbourhood wearing a hooded shirt, that would have been more reasonable, or at least less unreasonable, but in the rain? And as Martin was on the phone - something Zimmerman cannot have failed to notice - again, that was not so reasonable. But it wasn't criminal.
When Zimmerman ignored the police instructions not to pursue Martin, that was unreasonable. What happened next appears to have been even less, but the jury has spoken.
Profiling is very useful in certain circumstances; a woman travelling alone at night might well choose not to share a train carriage with a young, muscular man of any race dressed in dark clothing. For all she knows he may be a homosexual, or an undercover police officer on the look out for a known villain, but she would do well to profile him as a potential predator - sexual or otherwise - and choose another carriage. That is not sexism or misandry, but common sense. By the same token, most parents teach their kids - boys as well as girls - not to talk to strange men. If this is profiling strangers, it is also common sense.
There are times when profiling lets us down or has no reasonable use. It is a sad fact that in this age of international terrorism literally anyone can have a bomb in his or her luggage; we have known that since at least 1986 when Nezar Hindawi came within a hair's breadth of killing at least 375 people by tricking his lover into taking one aboard an aircraft.
Trayvon Martin's death was due not to profiling but to a wannabe cop with a gun, a man who portrayed himself as a good citizen while acting like Dirty Harry, and it had nothing to do with racism or any other ism. If we are to learn any lessons from this tragedy it is that America's gun laws and so-called stand your ground and self-defense laws need urgent reform.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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