THE USUAL SUSPECTS

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Detectives say they can tell if suspects are guilty by the look in their eyes. But when law enforcement officers use other physical features, such as skin color, to determine guilt or innocence, some Americans take offense. And yet, according to a study conducted exclusively for American Demographics by market research firm Harris Interactive, half of all adults in this country (52 percent) actually say they are not opposed to racial profiling.

This is the second installment of our ongoing research series exploring Americans' opinions on the issues of race and social mobility. The survey was conducted both online and via telephone, February 13 to 27, and included responses from 3,052 adults. Results were weighted to reflect the demographics of the total U.S. population.

Despite the fact that half of Americans support racial profiling, opinions differ by race and ethnicity. Not surprisingly, blacks are the most likely to oppose the tactic. Fully 64 percent of blacks say they object to any form of racial profiling, compared with 51 percent of Hispanics and 44 percent of whites. In addition, minority men are more likely to disapprove of racial profiling than their female counterparts. Specifically, 69 percent of black men and 52 percent of Hispanic men oppose any form of racial profiling, compared with 59 percent of black women and 50 percent of Hispanic women who feel the same. Among whites, the trend is reversed: 47 percent of white women disagree with the tactic, as do just 41 percent of white men.

Overall, 48 percent of Americans say they are unconditionally opposed to racial profiling. Yet seemingly contradictory, many of these same people change their stance when it comes to specific circumstances. For instance, 66 percent of Americans agree that as long as it's based on evidence describing the characteristics of a suspect for a “specific crime,� there is nothing wrong with racial profiling. Still, a significantly greater share of whites and Hispanics (70 percent of each group) feel this way than do blacks (48 percent). And while men and women share a similar stance on this particular issue, there are notable differences between the opinions of rich and poor: 74 percent of Americans with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more agree that the authorities should be allowed to implement racial profiling if searching for a specific individual, whereas just 59 percent of those with incomes below $15,000 feel the same.

Then there is the issue of racial profiling as it relates to the terrorist attacks last September. Indeed, a much greater share of all Americans (61 percent of blacks, 76 percent of Hispanics and 77 percent of whites) believe that in cases of suspected terrorism or in the interest of national security, racial profiling has its place. Furthermore, three-quarters of Americans — regardless of gender, income, education or age — support the use of racial profiling as a tool to combat terrorism.

It seems Americans still have a way to go before they will be able to fulfill the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. and judge each other by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin.

GUILT IS NOT A COLOR

While 75 percent of blacks under age 35 say they oppose any form of racial profiling, a slight majority (58 percent) do support the tactic when it comes to matters of national security.

PERCENT WHO AGREE: “I OPPOSE ANY FORM OF RACIAL PROFILING.� “I BELIEVE THAT RACIAL PROFILING HAS SELECT USES, SUCH AS IN CASES OF SUSPECTED PERCENT TERRORISM OR NATIONAL SECURITY THREATS.�
WHITE
Under 35 45% 75%
35+ 44% 78%
BLACKS
Under 35 75% 58%
35+ 54% 63%
HISPANICS
Under 35 49% 74%
35+ 52% 78%
Source: American Demographics/Harris Interactive
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