Here we're talking about instances of law enforcement determining that the likelihood of a suspect being guilty, or an individual being involved with a crime, is raised or lowered by their race or ethnicity.
You can't get through a cop show without running into profiling, it seems. It can make for a Very Special Episode
or can be imbued into every element of a piece to shift down the Sliding Scale of Cynicism Versus Idealism
. Normally treated as definitely A Bad Thing, sometimes its appearance on the work is accompanied by a souring of the mood or a sudden change in view of a character, revealing the subtle bigotry underneath. Conversely, with the Noble Bigot with a Badge
, it's actually a softer way of definitely showing that they are bigoted, without them doing something so terrible that we can't still view them as noble. Lately, there has been a trend of casting and costuming parts so that it invites the "profile" (gang member, perv, etc.), drawing the audience into profiling and then flipping it as a Red Herring
A common, non-police variation is taxi cab drivers not picking up passengers of certain ethnicities
Has nothing to do with The Profiler
- This was pretty much the point of the film The Siege with Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis and Tony Shalhoub where a series of terrorist atttacks results in New York being put under martial law, habeas corpus being revoked temporarily, all citizens of middle eastern descent being arrested and the use of torture.
- A line about DWB (Driving While Black) in Men In Black 2: the car's stoic autopilot decoy "came with a black dude, but he kept getting pulled over".
- Taken to the next level in Men In Black 3 when J, sent back to 1969, gets pulled over for DWB when they spot him driving a big Cadillac he "acquired". After the neuralizer:
J: And just because a black man is driving a fancy car doesn't mean he stole it! Okay, I stole this one, but it's not because I'm black.
- Parodied in the gas station scene in Don't Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood. The Asian Store Owners consistently harass Ashtray and Loc Dog while they're frequenting their store, while completely ignoring the white customer who is robbing them blind in plain view of everyone.
- Judging by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, not even Nick Fury is immune to D.C. cops thinking he stole his sweet S.H.I.E.L.D. SUV. Of course, the cops in this case turned out to be assassins, but the look on his face clearly communicates that this is not the first time.
- In Pretty Maids All In A Row, a dead female student has been founded in the boys' room at a high school. The imbecilic sheriff, called in after the body is found, grabs a random black student he sees in the hallway, and has to be led away to the boys' room and the body.
- In A Deeper Blue of the Paladin of Shadows series; middle eastern terrorists are threatening to unleash VX on Florida. As the situation spins closer and closer to deadline, the situation isn't helped by the fact that the local law enforcement can't prioritize suspects based on nationality or color of skin due to sensitivity about media reactions about profiling, bringing up issues related to the debated benefits on racial profiling. The Keldara, on the other hand, think the searches would go much quicker if they did so, bringing proof to back up their claim.
- In Men at Arms, the Night Watch are horrified to hear that speciesist copper Mayonnaise Quirke of the Day Watch has dealt with the murder of a dwarf by arresting the first troll he could find who didn't have an alibi. (Especially since they already knew it wasn't a troll because the door of the victim's workshop was too small for a troll to go through.)
- In The Cuckoo's Calling, the client puts a special emphasis on a black man filmed acting suspiciously around the scene and time of his sister's suspicious suicide, nicknamed The Runner. It happens that his uncle is a total racist but actually, the client knows perfectly well who The Runner is - the guy with a legitimate claim to Lula Landry's inheritance - and is trying to frame him.
- The West Wing
- Spent an entire episode on this, with Bartlett's Supreme Court nominee Roberto Mendoza being arrested for driving drunk—even though he had a liver condition that meant if he drank that much, he'd be dead.
- In the Canon Discontinuity episode Isaac and Ishmael, a worker at the White House is detained after a security flag runs up against his name. He has a rather heated discussion with Leo about his anger at being subject to racial profiling and Leo telling him that's what you get when you look like the enemy.
- There was an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air where Will and Carlton are driving a very nice car belonging to a friend of Uncle Phil. They get pulled over by the police for driving incredibly slowly, and then arrested with little regard for due process. During this all the writers contrast Will's cynicism with Carlton's Woobieish optimism in authority figures as he blunders through several actions that a well behaved rich kid can't see the shame but the Genre Savvy Will tries to advise him against.
- On Everybody Hates Chris, Chris tells us that the only thing that can distract the cops from seeing a black kid in a car is two black kids in a car.
- Another had Chris selected for a police line-up because he 'fit the profile' along with several other black men who look nothing alike. Chris comments that he knows how profiling works, and the scene cuts away to a man giving a detailed description of the perp there looking for, and then the scene repeats again to reveal that all the officer heard when the man mentioned he was black, was the word black.
"And he walked with a black."
- There was an episode of Angel with evil zombie police racists or something where they need to get arrested by them and Gunn says it will be easy to get their attention because he'll be committing the offense of WWB - Walking While Black.
- Spoofed in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Willow profiles the school records to determine who might be a werewolf.
Willow: There is one name that keeps getting spit out. Aggressive behavior, run-ins with authorities, about a screenful of violent incidents.
Buffy: Okay, most of those were not my fault. Somebody else started 'em. I was just standing up for myself.
- An episode of Smart Guy had Yvette's friend Nina getting a job at a clothing store, only to find that the store manager wanted her job to be following black people around the store to stop them from stealing. She awkwardly follows people around, not wanting to get fired, but then Yvette comes in and it gets really awkward. Nina then tries to change the manager's point of view, only for the manager to justify her own position with some anecdotal evidence and ask Nina to leave. Later we see the manager following a black guy around the store...who turns out to be an executive of the clothing chain, contacted by Yvette and Nina about the manager's behavior. Oops. They also arranged for one of their white friends to come into the store and carry out armfuls of clothing while the manager was following the black executive, even having him bow to the security camera, to emphasize her mistake.
- In Veronica Mars, a character accused of stealing because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time is described as having been "lurking" in the area. "Lurking? You mean, 'standing while black'?"
- Happens to Eddie on Family Matters. Carl, suspicious of Eddie's claim, simply gets angry at him for getting another ticket until he speaks to the cops who pulled him over. It turns out the one in charge is indeed a racist jerk.
- Done in That's So Raven, with the show's typical subtlety - Raven isn't hired as a sales clerk, while her friend Chelsea is, despite Raven performing much better in the preliminary tests (such as folding and categorizing clothes). Fair enough... but then she has a vision that the manager confessed to not liking black people. So, Raven wears a ridiculous disguise, with a hidden camera, to engineer the confession, which, after much pratfalling, she gets. The manager doesn't even try to justify it like the one on Smart Guy does - she just cheerily admits to being racist, almost without provocation, to a perfect stranger, in a public place, while working as a salesperson.
- Averted with Martin. Martin is pulled over by a police officer and decides to fight the ticket. While in court he accuses the officer of being racist. The officer disagrees and as evidence asks his wife to stand up. Martin is left speechless when the elegant, black woman in the front row stands and introduces herself.
- Taggart codified the concept of "Innocent until proven Irish."
- An early version of this is seen in Good Times when J.J. is arrested for a robbery. Eventually, the police let him go in embarrassment when they catch the real criminal: a short white guy who looks absolutely nothing like J.J. beyond having the exact same outfit of clothes.
- On one episode of The George Lopez Show, George was told to demote Hosni, an Arab-American employee, from his plane-inspecting position because of his background.
- Brought up in 24 where a FBI analyst expresses disgust at profiling Muslims in light of terrorist attacks. Jack shuts her down by saying he doesn't like it either, but they have no choice.
- Bones: Cam (Black) and Arastoo (Iranian) get pulled over by a cop for "driving erratically." Cam insists that Arastoo's driving was fine and his real crime was "driving while brown."
- In an episode of Leverage, Hardison invokes this, then subverts the invocation when he is being hassled by security guards:
- Shadowrun establishes that in certain parts of Seattle, "driving while meta" is enough to get you pulled over.
- Mass Effect 2: An unfortunate young Quarian on her pilgrimage is being harassed by a volus and a C-Sec officer aboard the Citadel. The volus is in a rage about the supposed theft of his money, which had to have been the quarian because she had bumped into her earlier. The C-Sec officer speaks only to the volus about the matter and says at least once in conversation, in regards to the quarian, "You know what they're like." Even after she is found innocent, the officer threatens her with arrest for vagrancy if she does not get some permanent housing soon. The player can deliver a pissed off rant from Shepard towards both the volus and the C-Sec officer on the slighted quarian's behalf; if Tali'zora nar Rayya (A quarian party member) is present she will have her own choice things to say.
- Sadly this type of thing happens for real, and not just with police or race. Muslims and airports has become a new cliche in light of the September 11 attacks, but youth out at night for example might be targeted for loitering on the basis they might cause trouble, or related they and others depending on their sex or mental disabilities may be discriminated against in seeking employment for example. A very valid topic to cover, but one for a site more political.