Picasso as a Criminologist: The Abstract Art of Racial Profiling

Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida
Amie M. Schuck, University of South Florida

Pablo Picasso was a renowned 20th century abstract artist recognized for his disfigured human portraits. The subjects that comprise his portraits were based on factual observations of real humans. It is our contention that current practices of racial profiling are similar to one of Picasso's poortraits: both are unrealistic abstractions based on real observtions and data. To be sure, racial profiles are often constructed from real observations and data about crimes and criminals. Statistical methods used to build criminal profiles, however, are often misleading and inappropriate. Further, the choice of data sources is also often improper. Using inappropriate methods and improper data sources, statistical models for building profiles are applied which appear to generate useful otucomes. To provide evidence supporting our contention we employ various data to illustrate the real relationship between race and crime. We argue that the real profile of a criminal should be a white offender, but that the race of a victim is highly related to the race of the offender. We conclude with an argument against racial profiling which questions the efficacy of profiling as an effective law enforcement strategy and as an approach to solving crimes that is contradictory to American principles of law and justice.

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Updated 05/20/2006