Some of the methods government agents use to separate the criminals from the non-criminals are reliable. For instance, seeing them commit crimes, or using actual non-fabricated evidence.
Other times, government agents like to use short cuts. Sometimes those short cuts are bogus pseudo-scientific programs, like the TSA's "Behavior Detection System" and suchlike. Racial and cultural profiling can be a variation on this — especially when it is conducted in a generalized, clumsy manner.
Take, for instance, Smoky the Bear warning us that people who drink Mexican beer might be drug dealers.
The United States Forest Service was forced to apologize this week after suggesting that, in order to avoid the sometimes armed and violent marijuana growers who use wide swaths of federal land to cultivate their crops, campers should be vigilant for other campers who speak Spanish or drink Tecate or other weird shit like that:
Michael Skinner, a law enforcement officer with the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado, said warning signs of possible drug trafficking include "tortilla packaging, beer cans, Spam, Tuna, Tecate beer cans," and campers who play Spanish music. He said the warning includes people speaking Spanish.
The warning signs were included in a slide presentation put together for drug agents in Colorado and the public.
Skinner said this may or may not represent criminal activity, but are indicators and he urged any campers who encounter long-term campers meeting the profile to "hike out quickly" and call police.
Skinner also warned that campers drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon probably either had awful taste or were pretentious hipster assholes.
This could actually be pretty awesome, because I hear that camp sites can get crowded, and if you could enjoy a Negro Modelo and get everyone else to clear out as a result, life would be much more pleasant.
Now, there's nothing wrong with announcing — as the Forest Service did — that marijuana growers are using illegal aliens in their grows. But Colorado has a vast Hispanic population. Many of them have been there for many generations. Some of them camp. Some of them drink Mexican beer and listen to Spanish music. Some Anglos drink Mexican beer and eat tortillas and listen to Spanish music. This sort of racial profiling advice to the public, stripped of full context and offered without the accompanying tools necessary to make any of it meaningful, is the equivalent of the TSA's junk science. It's security theatre — security theatre with a racial edge. When the Forest Service approaches campers already seeped in a culture that tells them (with little statistical validity) that they are in constant grave danger from violent crime, and tells them to beware of Hispanics or people eating or listening to funny foreign stuff because they might be armed and violent, they're courting violence and tragedy and disaster and not improving anyone's safety a whit. It's entirely appropriate that the Forest Service got its ass handed to it over this one, and entirely appropriate that Michael Skinner's career is probably over.
I trained a bunch of Forest Service people on drafting search warrants once. They were a good crew, friendly and competent and down to earth. This crap — by the sort of people who are not actually field offers — reflects badly on them.
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