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Brown: the new black

Reported by Chrish - August 2, 2005

Special Report 8/01/05 devoted three segments to the concept of racial profiling, and it seems to be deemed not just acceptable but only reasonable by Brit Hume and his cohorts on the so-called all-star panel. It fit nicely with all-star panelist Charles Krauthammer's most recent column, in which he green-lighted targeting young Muslims here and abroad.

Hume had on Aaron Cohen, identified as a private security consultant and former counter-terrorist with the Israeli defense forces, to discuss what alternatives to current practices might look like. Asked what his advice would be to US authorities regarding searches at subways and airports, he replied that he would recommend a multi-tiered system which would include literally looking at the individuals and looking them in the eye, talking to them, to determine who they're dealing with. After ascertaining that there should be criteria beyond race/color,Hume pushes for Cohen to describe exactly what those factors would be. Cohen says they should be looking for someone who is out of place, wearing inappropriate (for the weather) clothing, body language (during conversations with them), and actively engaging them in conversation to find out who they are.

Hume asks, with sarcasm, if Cohen can ever imagine that an elderly woman with a cane in an airport would ever be a likely suspect. Cohen replies that unless there is specific intelligence about terrorists planning to use an old woman it's a complete waste of time. Hume asks, how about a child? Old men? Cohen says again, a waste of time. Coming from Israel, he says (essentially), one has to be realistic about who is likely to be a threat, and there IS a category of people, and there IS a certain personality, and security has to not waste time on unlikely people.

Hume brings up the point that in US subway stations there are streams of people going by and engaging them in conversation is impossible. Cohen replies that in Israel there is a combination of uniformed and undercover officers at stations; an undercover may approach a person who "might be a red flag" and engage him and if the officer determines the person is suspicious he then radios a uniformed officer to question the suspect, perhaps search him, ask for ID. This, he says, reduces risk and is very quick and doable.

So, Hume summarizes, we'd have a "fair amount" of undercover officers around a station, concourse, boarding areas, and they would alert officers at the point where the suspect would "go through" and the uniforms could give them greater attention. He asks again, what kinds of characteristics do you look for? Mostly it's been Middle-Eastern men, so "sooner or later you're going to get down to at least part of it has to relate to characteristics that can be identified and are visible. And certainly, I think it's manifestly clear, skin-color's one of those things, is it not?"

Cohen replies that yes it is one of those things, and it's important for Americans to remember that profiling is a fact of security but it's also a fact of life here in America. He then compared marketers targeting demographics for selling products and casinos profiling "troublemakers" who might be stealing. He shrugs, saying it's a fact that dark-skinned and/or Middle Eastern looking men are more likely terrorists based on the evidence we have. It's a fact; beyond that, we have to look at behavior.

Comment; All I can think of, again, is that terrified Brazilian man being chased through the London Underground by plain clothes agents, shot and killed in cold blood because he had the look and the misfortune to live in a building with terrorist neighbors. Heaven help us.

Later in the show the Grapevine segment revisited the issue. A Democrat state assemblyman in NYC (Brooklyn), where officers are searching bags randomly in subway stations (he calls it "crazy"), wants to legalize racial profiling. Assemblyman Dov Hikind says Middle Eastern men and womwn, particularly younger ones, should be targeted for bag searches and he will introduce legislation in NY to remove legal obstacles to the practice.

The so-called All-stars (Jeff Birnbaum, Ceci Connelly, Charles Krauthammer) weighed in on the topic at the end of the program. First, earlier guest Aaron Cohen was re-presented stating that skin color is an issue; there is a higher chance that darker or Middle-Eastern looking men were more likely to be terrorists, based on the evidence we have; "it's a fact."

Hume harks back to the Grapevine segment for more reinforcing, saying "people" say that searching the elderly and kids is "crazy". But, in a poll taken earlier, the respondents say (he thinks it was) 49% to 42% no, don't do it.

Comment: Very interesting how this poll, having been brought up at all, is a) not shown on screen as usual and b) quickly dismissed. We don't see the question and Hume "thinks" those are the numbers. Most unusual.

The question posed to the panel is, even if there was a consensus that profiling is the right thing to do, could it be instituted or would the political price be too high?

Krauthammer replies first, saying that because of our history of race relations and how judging people on appearances has been abused it couldn't be done, but we could do a "negative' profiling. By that he means officers could eliminate people in certain "obviously innocent" classes, i.e. the elderly, children. Krauthammer would include in that certain races: Japanese, Chinese. He says that the Japanese have not been suicidal in 60 years; they're not interested in jihad. If in doing "random" "every fifth person" searches (Comment: which is a contradiction) the fifth person is Japanese, everyone knows searching his/her bag would be a waste. He claims that skipping this obvious innocent would not solve our problem but would save resources where it might help.

Birnbaum wonders if this is such a good idea, to tell any group in advance that you're not going to scrutinize them. Hume replies that you wouldn't make an announcement, just put the policy into effect, but then voices a hypothetical announcement that "due to statistical probabilities we are ruling out certain classes of people whom we think the probabilities are so low, based on statistical data," there's almost no chance that they'd have a bomb. Birnbaum wants to take it a step further, saying you don't have to say you're racially profiling but only certain kinds of people are more likely to, uh, to

Hume broke in at that point, saying "you don't call it racial profiling, you call it statistical profiling." Exactly, says Birnbaum.

Asked if the phrase "racial profiling" is political dynamite, Connelly says yes it is, and there are also Constitutional barriers to this kind of approach. She cites the 4th Amendment against unreasonable search and seizures, and Hume posits that if it's based on statistical data it's not unreasonable. Connelly counters with, let's think about Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, the BTK killer, the IRA. She says that the current conversation and Krauthammer's article have caused a stir and in minority communities people are very upset at being singled out for appearance. In reality, she says, it's too imprecise; sad to say, but probably to many providing screening and security, an Asian is an Asian, and she hopes that when she's 65 she looks 55...there are real practical challenges.

Comment: To-ma-to, to-mah-to.

The pro-racial profiling voices trounced the anti-profiling voices throughout the show. No minorities or civil rights advocates were involved. Connelly, the "voice of opposition", said it couldn't be done, not that it shouldn't. This is "20th century Fox" at its worst.

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