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"Meanwhile, far away in another part of town
Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin' around
Number one contender for the middleweight crown
Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down
When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road
Just like the time before and the time before that
In Paterson that's just the way things go
If you're black you might as well not show up on the street
'Less you wanna draw the heat."
Bob Dylan, "Hurricane"

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 Idealism Versus Cynicism. This trope is also often in play when someone is Mistaken for Terrorist, especially if the suspect is Muslim or assumed to be. 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. Another includes store owners and employees following and watching anyone who comes into the store who is an ethnic minority (typically black or brown) because they immediately suspect them of only trying to steal.

Has nothing to do with The Profiler.


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    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman
    • Wonder Woman (1987) introduces the fantastic conflict between the amazon tribes of Themyscria and Bana-Mighdall, but also delves into profiling. Themyscira has a much better relationship with "man's world", than Bana-Mighdall, seeking to isolate from it rather than terrorize it, and most of the Bana-Mighdall are dark skinned west Asians and north Africans, while those of Themyscira tend to be lighter skinned Mediterranean denizens, but there are still blacks among Themyscira who end up being attacked by people who can't tell the two tribes apart otherwise, with Wonder Woman's mentor Philippus getting hospitalized in a mistaken identity assault.
    • While the eponymous character herself is oblivious to her sister's plight, Wonder Woman (Rebirth) involves flashbacks to the 1960s where Nubia tried to stop a crime while tracking a monster to The United States, and couldn't grasp why the police were still convinced she was the criminal even as she fully cooperated with their investigation under the assumption she'd be treated just like Wonder Woman. Nubia hadn't been in "man's world" since antiquity, where she was one of the most powerful and respected women on Madagascar, and had also missed most of the Bana-Mighdall/Themyscira conflict, so the concept of "black" being a problem was so alien to Nubia an alien had to demonstrate by impersonating a black detective who outranked the officers who arrested her.
  • This is the main drive of Civil War II
    • A Nuhuman named Ulysses gains that power to see the future in almost perfect clarity. Carol Danvers believes that Ulysses is a boon, as they can use him to stop crimes before they can start. However Tony Stark doesn't buy it, proclaiming that this ultimately leads to this very trope. In fact, Tony ends up kidnapping Ulysses from the Inhumans so he can figure out what's going on and theorizes that he's influenced by various factors around him. However, the paranoia over his predictions end up causing deaths as an attempt to stop an invading Thanos leads to War Machine and She-Hulk's deaths and panic over the Hulk killing everyone leads to Clint Barton killing a clearly harmless Bruce Banner.
    • Several of the tie-ins deal with the profiling aspect more explicitly. Ms Marvel has a scene where Kamala Khan's sister-in-law, Ayesha, references how the War on Drugs in the 90's resulted in a lot of young African-Americans getting arrested for either minor crimes, or crimes they flat out didn't even commit. Meanwhile, Captain America: Sam Wilson has a Flashback to early on in The Falcon's career, where he was arrested during a fight with the Trapster because the cops assumed he was the supervillain because of his skin color. Iron Man himself explicitly refers to it as 'profiling' in a chat with Miles Morales, who points out that it's a charged word for a black-Hispanic person like himself. Miles's father draws a parallel to how he himself was arrested on suspicion of drug possession just because he's black.

    Fan Works 
  • Never Be Silent: The metahuman-detection watches Harry created essentially functions as this, as it makes it impossible for metahumans to hide and therefore makes it easier for them to be discriminated against out of the assumption that all metahumans are inherently malevolent. Harry doesn't really acknowledge the implications of his creation until Jesse is turned into a metahuman, whereupon he realizes he set up his daughter's life to be ruined.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Zootopia, Officer Judy Hopps (a bunny) sees Nick Wilde (a fox) acting "suspicious" and enter an ice cream store leading her to follow him inside. Once there, she sees him wanting to buy a jumbo pop for his "son" and she immediately chastises herself for jumping to conclusions. While it does turn out he was running a hustle, her initial evaluation was based primarily on him being a fox. Her focus on Nick also leads her to ignore a sheep whose behavior is objectively a lot more suspicious.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Higher Learning: Fudge and his group complain repeatedly of racism toward them from the campus police (who also appear to have just one black member), which is born out by the film since the officers always assume that it's them who caused any issue or ignore white students doing the same thing.
  • Master: By the end of the movie, a report of a "suspicious female" walking on the university quad is heard over the college security radio. The "suspicious female" is Gale, a faculty member who is just walking home.
  • Men in Black:
    • A line about DWB (Driving While Black) in Men in Black II: 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.
  • 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.
  • This was pretty much the point of the film The Siege with Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis and Tony Shalhoub where a series of terrorist attacks 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.

  • 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.
  • 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 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • The Boys (2019): Days after Kimiko breaks his leg, A-Train goes clothes shopping while using crutches and sees a White security guard eyeing him. He tries to ignore him, but the guard starts tailing him through the store, and when A-Train confronts him, the guard says he's just "keeping an eye on things." After some fans recognize A-train, the guard backs off, but A-Train angrily says that the only reason he backed off is because he just realized he was harassing a famous Superhero, and nothing else.
  • Class of '09:
    • Tayo suffered this along with his brothers while in their youth, as (implied white) cops stopped them for no real reason but due to their race. It's one reason he's determined to fight institutionalized racism and remove human bias from law enforcement.
    • Hour's parents are opposed to her joining the FBI as Iranian Americans (and others who are of Middle Eastern descent) like them have been targeted for scrutiny just over their background quite often. They mention having often gone out of their way when traveling to avoid this.
  • Deputy: Joseph endures this when a friend of his gets pursued as a murder suspect, with his trying to help through saying he's a deputy sheriff ignored by an LAPD officer. He gets forced down at gunpoint as he attempts to show his badge, with the officer clearly not seeing anything except just another dangerous black man in his mind. Joseph is very upset about it afterward, saying how even becoming a cop hasn't changed being treated like this.
  • Derry Girls episode 3.01 "The Night Before": The gang are brought to a police station to be questioned. The gang (Catholic teens) start freaking out because it's the 90s, in the middle of The Troubles, and RUC is known for being prejudiced. They're not actually being profiled—they accidently helped burgle their school and it's reasonable that they be questioned—but it's a Discussed Trope.
    Erin: You're trying to stitch us up, aren't you?
    Inspector: Why would I do that?
    Michelle: Because we're Fenians.
    Inspector: That is a very serious allegation, girls.
    Erin: Are you denying that your organisation is prejudiced, Inspector? [Beat] For the tape, the inspector is refusing to answer.
    Inspector: There is no tape!
    Erin: If your organisation isn't prejudiced, Inspector, then you won't mind telling us how many Catholic officers are serving in it at this time.
    Inspector: I think we're losing sight of who's questioning who here, girls.
    Erin: How many?
    Inspector: [stammers] Well, if you count the Jewish fella from Ballymena, three.
    Erin: [incredulous] In the entire police force, you have three Catholic officers, and one of those officers is a Jew?
  • A minor subplot in the ER episode "A Thousand Cranes" has Drs. Pratt and Gallant get arrested for a murder committed at a local diner after having been stopped due to this trope, then a bloody shirt was found in the car. Said shirt, naturally, was from one of them getting their nose bloodied during a game of basketball earlier that day.
  • 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.
  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Sam and Bucky are in a heated argument walking down the street in Baltimore when confronted by the police who clearly assume Sam is the danger for being black. Ironically, after they realize Sam is the Falcon, they end up arresting Bucky for missing his court mandated therapy session.
    "And he walked with a black."
  • In an episode of Family Matters, Eddie is pulled over for driving in a white neighborhood. 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 bigot while the younger one was just doing his job.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: In one episode, 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 all this the writers contrast Will's Street Smarts and cynicism born from his upbringing in the hood with Carlton's Woobieish optimism in authority figures from his wealthy upbringing which shielded him from such treatment, as Carlton blunders through several actions that a well behaved rich kid can't see the shame in but Will tries to advise him against. Notably, the end of the episode is one of the few times Uncle Phil agrees that Will had the right idea, having been pulled over before in the past.
  • 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. George protests, but his bosses tell him that they don't have a choice. The company is trying to win a contract from the government that they need in order to avoid laying people off. Once George explains the situation to Hosni, he understands and agrees to take the demotion.
  • 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.
  • In The Lenny Henry Show's spoof The Raj drama The Jewel in the Passage, Henry's character (a composite of Dr Aziz in A Passage to India and Hari Kumar in The Jewel in the Crown) says he'll be tried in the great tradition of British colonial justice — innocent until proven black.
  • Law & Order: In "Fear and Loathing" Shaw gets harassed and nearly shot by two white police officers on the basis that he's black, like a suspect they're seeking, in spite of his protests that he's a detective. The episode's white villain as well weaponized this with false claims of black men being criminals, getting one killed and also a previous man beaten, so this would drive down property prices in areas he (a realtor) wanted to buy up for later profit.
  • In an episode of Leverage, Hardison invokes this, then subverts the invocation when he is being hassled by security guards:
    Hardison: This is about my ethniticity, isn't it? It's cause I'm Jewish!''
  • 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 and himself a victim of racial profiling. 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.
  • A sketch on Not the Nine O'Clock News had a police officer called in by Da Chief because he kept bringing in the same man on increasingly absurd charges, including "being in posession of curly hair". Eventually the chief asks if the man is black, and the officer replies with a wounded "Hadn't noticed, sir!"
  • Prodigal Son: JT is a victim of this from White police officers in the Season 2 premiere, who assume that he was involved with the crime absent evidence at all, just because he's Black. After they draw their guns on him (and one calls him "boy" to boot) he's in great danger before Dani arrives, rescuing him by revealing that JT's a detective. He's outraged about it afterward, but afraid they'll claim he assaulted them in defense. Gil assures him he'll back up what he says though.
  • The Rookie (2018): Doug Stanton, Jackson's new T.O., almost immediately accused a young black man who's reported a crime to them of being a gang member, suspecting that the incident was related. He does this solely based on the young man's race and the flimsiest inference from a single dot tattoo. This is Jackson's first clue that Doug isn't really so nice as he appears. He keeps up the same behavior after this, which causes Jackson and Grey to decide that they must take him down.
  • Saturday Night Live: Parodied in "Amazon Go", which spoofs the titular cashierless convenience store chain where payment is automatic and customers can just take what they want and leave. The white customers are all amazed by the technology, while the black customers — used to being profiled as shoplifters — are all incredibly suspicious.
    Alexa! Search "amazon go store black man trap"!
  • 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.
  • 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, only for her confession to be secretly tapped on the news.
  • 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.
  • 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'?"
  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Shadowrun establishes that in certain parts of Seattle, "driving while meta" is enough to get you pulled over.

    Video Games 
  • The police officer in Harvest Moon: Back to Nature and its Mineral Town remakes tends to be distrustful of Won, the token Chinese character. While Won does charge more than the general store for exclusive seeds, he's a completely honest member of the village and doesn't do anything wrong. Considering Won is Chinese and the rest of the town is Japanese/vaguely American/European (depending on the version and region) with the exception of one black character in the original, it’s plausible he just doesn’t like Won for being different.
  • Mass Effect 2: An unfortunate young quarian on her pilgrimage is being harassed by a volus and a C-Sec officer on 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 him 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'Zorah nar Rayya (a quarian party member) is present, she will have her own choice things to say.

    Web Animation 

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy plays it for laughs when Peter, who recently discovered he has a black ancestor, is pulled over by an officer.
    Cop: Hey, you're that black guy I saw on the news conference, ain't ya?
    Peter: That's me.
    Cop: This is car 15, I'm gonna need backup, I've got a stolen vehicle here.
    Peter: But this is my car.
    Cop: Suspect's getting belligerent.
    Peter: What?!
    Cop: Officer down. (collapses into the road, with three more cars pulling up shortly after)

Alternative Title(s): Driving While Black