May 15, 2003
GW Study Explores Profiling Response
Professors Weitzer and Tuch Find Racial Profiling
as Widespread Across America
A large gulf separates members of minority populations and whites on
the issue of racial profiling, according to a recent poll of African
Americans, Hispanics, and whites released by Ronald Weitzer and Steven
Tuch, professors of sociology. Almost half of African Americans in the
sample and a quarter of Hispanics believe that they have been the victims
of racial profiling by police. Significant numbers of both African Americans
and Hispanics also report that someone in their household has experienced
profiling: a third of African Americans and a fifth of Hispanics. Almost
no whites believe that they have been subjected to racial profiling.
The nationally representative survey of African Americans, Hispanics,
and whites living in urban and suburban areas of the US was funded by
the National Institute of Justice and completed in December 2002 as
part of a public opinion poll focusing on police practices and behavior.
Results of the research are contained in a new report, Racial
Profiling in America: The Publics Perceptions and Experiences,
and will be presented by Weitzer and Tuch at the annual meeting of the
American Association for Public Opinion Research in Nashville this month.
The duo will spend the next academic year writing a book based on the
The poll indicated substantial consensus that racial profiling is wrong:
nine in 10 African Americans and three-quarters of whites and Hispanics
disapprove of the practice. Moreover, most of those who disapprove of
profiling appear to be strongly attached to this position, even when
confronted with the hypothetical possibility that profiling works.
Respondents who disapprove of profiling were asked, Suppose studies
show that racial profiling helps to catch criminals. Would you still
disapprove of profiling? Clear majorities of African Americans,
whites, and Hispanics said they would still disapprove of the practice.
Among those who approve of profiling,
by contrast, approval is somewhat softer. Those who initially approved
of profiling exhibited a greater tendency to change their views if confronted
by evidence showing profiling to be ineffective at catching criminals
(the hypothetical that racial profiling does not help to catch
criminals). Sixty-two percent of African Americans, 53 percent
of Hispanics, and 58 percent of whites said they would no longer approve
of the practice under this condition.
The findings are part of a larger study of citizen opinions of the police.
The sample consisted of 1,792 respondents 18 years of age and older.
In addition to racial profiling, the study also examined other types
of police misconduct, community policing, and support for various reforms
in police practices.
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