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San Bernardino aftermath: “Trump”eting and the need for Prudent Profiling

10 Dec 2015


To set up today’s discussion about Mr. Trump and the latest terrorist violence, we need to review the concept of profiling.  In my mind, the history of racial profiling is rightly condemned in the U.S.   Like most, my own opinions on this are colored by what I’ve seen. My first experience with racial profiling was in a lunch time discussion with a fellow Air Force officer ~1993 who was African-American. He was a major (a mid-level officer) who was also married to a Lt Colonel; their combined income would have been upper middle class at least. “Doc” (his call sign) one day looked at me with exasperation in his eyes, and in a pained voice, said “I’m so tired of being pulled over for driving a BMW.” In the early 90s, driving a new BMW was something only the wealthy could do–and police must have suspected he stole it–simply because he was black. And this was in Colorado, not exactly a hot bed for racial prejudice.

Contemporary culture has taken this wrong and made it a universal principle:  it is immoral to treat someone differently, because of their race, religion, etc. (and this list keeps growing).  I argue that this is imprudent policy and has no biblical merit.  It is without biblical merit because there are numerous cases of treating people differently in the Bible because of their religion, sex, age, etc. e.g., gentiles were not allowed in the inner temple area, females were not allowed to be priests (Lev 8), priests were required to retire at 50 from temple service (Num 8:25).  The question becomes why are they treated differently? Is it for a reason that is God-honoring or not?  Does the differential treatment attack the individual’s inherent dignity of someone created Imago Dei?

One thing that contemporary culture refuses to acknowledge is that in almost all of these issues, there are competing rights being balanced.  I have a right to not have my car stolen.  I also have the right not to suffer unreasonable search and seizure.  In the case of my friend Doc, it is the combination of these issues that rightly guide us to condemn racial profiling.  When our rights are abridged, it must be for reasonable reasons and the reduction of our rights must be proportional to the public interest.  For example, let’s say there was a highly credible report that intelligence gathered that there was a suitcase bomber loose in NYC with a stolen Soviet-era nuclear bomb.  The intelligence says that it would be carried by a black woman.  Is it unreasonable to stop every black woman walking down the street in NYC, simply because they are black and female?  If you say no, that this is inconsistent with our values, I say you are absolutely nuts!  Stop them if they look close to black, even if they are androgynous!  The point is that we must balance the broader risks to society and the reductions of our values.  We cannot possibly put 10 million lives at risk because someone might feel offended.  In economic terms, we must balance costs and benefits. To say we want no discrimination in society, is to wish for utopia–an unbiblical concept in a fallen world.*  In the case of historic racial profiling, blacks had (and still have) a higher rate of crime than whites, not due to race but to socioeconomic/cultural issues.  But the risk to society of a car being stolen did not rise to level of a systematic persecution of an entire class of people.  It was not proportional.  I think this is the valid and legitimate concern of many of the racial issues we see today and exemplified in Black Lives Matter–its not that all the people that are protesting deny that the young men killed were not in the wrong–but rather there is no proportionality.  For a minor crime we are taking the life of a young man?  Those protesting from that perspective are on strong Biblical grounds–the Bible does not generally allow taking the life of someone for theft**.

So with that context, let’s consider today’s continuing news.  On the heels of the Paris tragedy comes what appears now to be a radicalized Muslim “lone wolf” husband and wife team that at least sympathized with ISIS that killed 14 people and wounded many more.  Donald Trump is arousing much angst and vitriol because he suggested we should ban Muslims from coming to America until the government can assure us they can keep out “the bad guys.”  And the elite culture and news media are shocked that many Americans agree with him.

I assert we are in this situation in part because the Obama Administration has not prudently (at least publicly) treated risks differentially.  For anyone to say (and many on the left do) that you are simply a racist and xenophobic to want to apply a different standard to someone wanting to immigrate from Syria than from say, China, is to ignore the legitimate concerns over differential risk. ISIS is openly saying they will use the immigration process to infiltrate the West for terrorist attacks, and are suspected to have done it in Paris, according to the House Homeland Security Committee.  To deny that there is a greater risk of harm to the U.S. of a Muslim immigrant than for a Christian immigrant, simply because the vast majority of Muslims mean us no harm, is also ludicrous in an era of easily made bombs and widely available guns*** in a free society.  But it is not only ludicrous, when it flows into public policy it is also dangerous.

This leads to the video link above, where Israel is the perhaps the best model for us to study in the new world we live in.  Prudent profiling is an integral part of this.  We must balance the risks and rights of all; picking one extreme (as the Obama Administration seems to have done) leads to the other extreme (Trumpetisms). Neither is healthy.  Further, if we fail to address legitimate risks, the government loses the respect of the people and the public will turn to extreme answers.  If we do not act with prudence now, and we start having a shooting in once a month in the U.S., you will see a very illiberal reaction–there will not be a small reduction in “rights,” you may see the “round them all up” sentiment sweep the nation. There is much at stake to our values that necessitates acting prudently now.


EDIT Update:  National Review has an excellent link related to this topic, check it out.

* I have previously argued that discrimination is not wrong in many cases; we are allowing the culture to smuggle questionable values  under the broader value of treating people with dignity and respect.

** Unless they are in your house at night–because the risk is not merely to your property in that situation.  Otherwise restitution is required; see Exodus 22.

*** Gun controls such as Mr. Obama is proposing would have little effect on the availability of guns, when there are probably 5-10 million AR-15s already out there.  Yes, it would raise the price.  But we see this terrorist simply got a loan shortly before the event.  This is a red herring to avoid talking about the real issues.