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Boing Boing commits racial profiling

British tourist Leigh Van Bryan, about to go to Los Angeles, joked on Twitter about digging up Marilyn Monroe's grave and destroying America. DHS found out somehow, detained Van Bryan and friend Emily Banting at the airport, and deported them back to Europe. Boing Boing correctly points out (via Alkon) that this is silly—but the reason we know this is silly is because you and I and Boing Boing are racially profiling. Native white British subjects haven't done any damage to America since they burned DC down in 1814, and are exceedingly unlikely to be serious about "destroying America." (As Boing Boing profiles Van Bryan: "He would not hurt anyone. He is gay.") But we want DHS to have the flexibility to detain hypothetical Islamic fundamentalist Mohammed Abbasi if he were to make a similar threat on the Internet that is less likely to be a joke. But we don't let DHS racially profile. That means that DHS has to treat everyone with the same insane level of scrutiny, which both results in silly false positives, like the deportation of Leigh van Bryan, and likely also results in false negatives, because resources diverted to investigating 88-year-old invalid grandmothers and gay Irish tweeters aren't being used to scrutinize Saudi college dropouts taking flight lessons. Perhaps we as a society prefer things this way rather than have a DHS that engages in racial profiling, but then we have to recognize that in the absence of profiling, the DHS will not have the discretion to use common sense to permit Van Bryan and Banting to spend their tourist dollars here. More at Daily Mail.

Update: and welcome Instapundit and Boing Boing readers. You'll note that, contrary to Boing Boing's characterization, I never say that I approve of racial profiling; there are unquantifiable benefits for a society that refuses to do so, especially for someone like me who is swarthy and could dress as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for Halloween simply by not shaving. I merely note that the abstaining from racially profiling is not costless. A consequence of the failure to racially profile is that people who clearly are not Muslim terrorists are going to be treated as if they were Muslim terrorists, and that means that people who say they are going to "destroy America" cannot be assumed to be joking. Boing Boing huffily denies profiling, but that simply isn't true. The post author clearly thought some profiling was appropriate in evaluating this decision: as I noted above, he quoted the person who asserted that gay people aren't violent. Why did "conservatives" pick on this one post? We discussed it at our secret Vast Right Wing Conspiracy meetings. No, seriously, I saw the Boing Boing post on Amy Alkon's blog, noted that Boing Boing thought it relevant to mention that Van Bryan was gay to demonstrate that the DHS was being silly, and Glenn Reynolds saw my post on Facebook. Certainly, DHS will be more accurate if they act as an intelligent Bayesian, and react less harshly to gay Irish tweeters—but that would entail racial profiling.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.