Justice and Profiling in the Real World
New Orleans is one of the few places in the country where one can walk around with an open container of alcohol. To me, it actually makes sense, and the ban almost everywhere else seems kind of weird. Nevertheless, until recently your booze couldn’t be in glass, but that rule fell under accusations that it was racist or classist or both. I’m not really certain of the logic here, but it was an interesting move. I’ve always been intrigued by ambiguity in the world like this. Read on…
I was very pleased to read that Harvard has decided to eliminate its early admissions policy. That’s not to say I’ve long been lobbying for this move (I’d never thought of it before), but as soon as I heard about it it struck me as a move for a more level playing field. I have had a number of students who could have done very well as scholars, but because they were strapped with financial or time concerns, or they simply didn’t know the ropes, they would not have been granted early admissions anywhere, even if they did know enough to apply. Here’s hoping that more schools (especially the elite) will follow suit.
Still, some strange disadvantages and preferences remain in our world, and I’ve encountered several in New Orleans recently, all of which are ambiguous.
Last semester, one of my students told me that a bar near Tulane changed its admittance sign over time, first saying that you had to be of a certain age, then saying you had to have a college ID, and then saying the ID had to be from Tulane or Loyola. Were Xavier students banned, or was the position that they couldn’t authenticate XU students’ IDs?
Earlier this year, St. Tammany Parish’s Sheriff Jack Strain said that people walking around with certain hairstyles were not welcome. As representatives of New Orleans that he dubbed “thugs” and “trash,” Strain said:
I don’t want to get into calling people names, but if you’re going to walk the streets of St. Tammany Parish with dreadlocks and chee wee hairstyles, then you can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff’s deputy.
Well, at least he didn’t want to call anyone names! I actually had a letter to the paper published above the fold saying that my students had never heard that term, so maybe it refers to white collar criminals, in which case I’m all for the profiling! A colleague wrote a great post expressing his concern over getting in trouble, just in case he has one of the hairstyles in question.
But then I read about some potential profiling among some more like-minded people in the NOLA blogosphere. Does Jack Strain own the Half Moon? At what point is banning clothing associated with unwanted people inappropriate, immoral, or illegal? Ah, the ambiguity!
Finally, there’s the issue of the African American transvestite gang of thiefs on Magazine Street. My favorite costume shop has taken to closing until the crime gets solved. The article says that the merchants close up shop when one of them sees the group coming. Maybe that profiling is a little different, but is that only because it’s such a specific (and perhaps more fringe) subgroup? If I’m a law-abiding African American transvestite with my similar friends, should I be barred from the store? No one really favors profiling, but we often do it, whether we realize it or not.
I don’t know the answers to these quandaries, and I sympathize with crime victims, but I also think it’s important to think critically about our responses. Just as getting rid of the skycaps didn’t make any sense after 9/11, some of our responses here may cast an unfairly wide net and may create a society we don’t really want. Even if the immediate response is desirable to some of the people who make the decisions.
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