Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I do not think this means what you think it means

I don't want to get into any kind of "this isn't mine" trouble, so I won't link the actual picture here. But there was a political cartoon that happened in July that recently came to my attention: by Pat Oliphant

His cartoon was drawn to prove that racial profiling is appropriate, jacketed in his fear of BigScaryMeanDogs. Namely, two Dobermans in a dark alley vs. two...black kids? in a dark alley. "Don't profile, keep positive thoughts" are some of the words from the caption. He also added "approach them and pat anyway", not a bright thing to do with ANY strange dog (or random person) in an alley. "And run like hell" is in an itty bitty bubble at the bottom, a sure way to get a dog to chase you, even if he or she was not originally inclined to attack. If you approached two strangers in an alley, patted them on the heads, and then ran like hell, they would probably just be pretty confused about what your crazy ass was doing.

I assume Oliphant was commenting on perhaps New York City Mayor Bloomberg's July 23 vote to veto what was effectively a racial profiling law (though apparently in August, the city council overrode the veto). Wired magazine gives a brief overview to the percentage "success" rate of the stop-and-frisk implementation: 53% black, 89% innocent, .5% resulting in an arrest. The NYCLU compiled an "All the Stops" visualization, on the BKLYNR web site

I have a suspicion that Oliphant didn't want to challenge anybody's assumptions with his cartoon, not really; he wanted to show that hell yes we profile, for our safety, and we should continue to do so. Because of course Dobermans are scary baby killers and will always be. They will turn on their masters, they will attack you just as soon as look at you. Nobody should own a dog like that. 

If that's what he thinks about Dobermans (or if that's what he's assuming people think about Dobermans), now turn it back around. What is he saying about pretty much every population that is non white? He's saying black people and hispanic people will mug you and/or rob businesses, if they're not just drug dealers. He's saying Middle Easterners are terrorists. He's saying he doesn't want these people as his neighbors. He's saying....I don't even know what else he's saying. But it's these prejudices that the message of the cartoon relies on. Of course Dobermans are dangerous. Of course x non white population is dangerous (though I guess the "white Hispanic" category confounds these sweeping statements?)

It's bad enough when people make stupid assumptions about dogs they know nothing about, but it's "just a dog", right? It's unconscionable when people make stupid assumptions about people they know nothing about. 

I'm not in law enforcement. I'm not in corrections. I'm not an economist. I don't work with at risk inner city youth. I don't live in a city. But threat assessment has far more to do with "Hey that's a black kid" or "hey, that's an Asian guy". It has to do with context, and perceived behavior, and whether, at a glance, a weapon is present. Not all "profiling" is "racial profiling", to be clear. There is a certain criminal profile one works off of, and a certain psychological profile, and keeping things like that in mind solves crime and saves lives and all that jazz. The amount of innocent people who get accused and mistreated is alarming, and measures need to be taken to reduce that, not increase it, while still reducing crime.

Law enforcement is in an uncomfortable position in many, many places, and I don't envy them.

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