Project Partners

Participating Institutions

Year 1 (2007/08): The 17th & 18th Centuries

Summer Institute 2008

Year 2 (2008/09): The 19th Century

Summer Institute 2009

Year 3 (2009/10): The 20th Century

Summer Institute 2010

View/Submit Lessons

Additional Resources

Photo Gallery

Contact Us











Keeping America Safe?: Racial/Ethnic Profiling Post 9/11

Created by:
Theresa Napson-Williams
Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

TAH Teachers
Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District

9/11 and its Aftermath

Grade Level:
9 to 12


The tragic events of September 11, 2001 forever changed the way Americans thought about terrorism, security, and threats to Americans both domestically and internationally. Terrorism had always been something other countries experienced or American embassies or soldiers faced overseas, a safe distance from this nation's shores. The events of that fateful day permanently changed that perception. As a result, America had to grapple with how it could protect itself from foreign and domestic threats, secure its borders, and monitor and expel those within the U.S. who sought to destroy its way of life. This lesson plan explores some of the tactics that American officials and individuals undertook in the effort to identify who might be a threat. It furthermore explores the potential efficacy and risks of such methods.

Historical Context

The U.S. government responded quickly to the crisis of 9/11 by passing a number of measures which, officials argued, helped contain or eliminate security threats. The USA Patriot Act, for example, which was signed into law on October 26, 2001, allowed federal officials to trace communications both for law enforcement and foreign intelligence gathering purposes. It also gave the Secretary of the Treasury regulatory powers to combat corruption of U.S. financial institutions, ostensibly to prevent foreign money laundering, and tightened immigration controls to restrict national borders to foreign terrorists and detain and remove those within the country.

In June of 2002, the U.S. Attorney General announced the National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS) which required all male nationals between the ages of 15 and 25 countries to register, as well as be fingerprinted, photographed and questioned. Those who failed to do so faced deportation and criminal penalties. While introduced under the auspices of national security, one obvious result of such measures was racial profiling, which has occurred at the federal, state, and local levels since the September 11th attacks.

According to "We are One America," a non-profit organization founded in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 to combat race-based prejudice, racial profiling occurs when legal authorities use race, ethnicity, religion, or national origins rather than specific evidence of suspicious behavior to determine who to investigate, arrest, or detain. Racial profiling in the United States did not begin in 2001 with the terrorist attacks; for decades studies have demonstrated that African Americans, Native Americans and Latino/Hispanic Americans are stopped and searched more often while driving than whites. But since then, legal authorities have increasingly targeted members of Arab, Muslim, and South Asian communities to search, interrogate and detain in the name of "national security." They have, furthermore, labeled such minorities "terrorism suspects" when in reality they were guilty of misdemeanors or minor immigration violations, if they were charged at all.

In New Jersey, racial profiling has primarily targeted African Americans. The 1998 shooting of three unarmed minorities on a New Jersey highway by state police propelled the issue of racial profiling to the attention of federal investigators. After numerous investigations by the state of New Jersey and monitoring by the federal government, Governor Corzine, in the fall of 2009, signed legislation mandating state oversight intended to prevent racial profiling. The bill creates an office under the attorney general to continue examining motor vehicle stops, which came under heavy scrutiny after state officials first acknowledged racial profiling on New Jersey's highways. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), enforcement organizations, legal scholars and civil rights activists have sought similar national legislation. This June (2010) they testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at a hearing on racial profiling to set the stage for the reintroduction of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) to both the House and the Senate.

Despite such efforts to eliminate racial profiling programs and tactics by law enforcement agencies across the country, in the spring of 2010, Arizona's governor signed the nation's toughest bill on illegal immigration into law, a law many consider racial profiling because it is aimed at Arizona's large Hispanic population. It seeks to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants. The law, which proponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in generations, would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Opponents have called it an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.


racial/ethnic profiling, domestic terrorism, democracy, justice

Goals and Objectives:

Following this activity, students will be able to:

1. Understand the practice of racial/ethnic profiling and its use in locating threats to the security of the United States.

2. Comprehend the consequences laws have on people's lives.

3. Compare and contrast arguments for stricter legal control in emergencies with ideas of freedom and individual rights.


STANDARD 6.1 (U.S. History: America in the World): All students will acquire the knowledge and skills to think analytically about how past and present interactions of people, cultures, and the environment shape the American heritage. Such knowledge and skills enable students to make informed decisions that reflect fundamental rights and core democratic values as productive citizens in local, national, and global communities.

STANDARD 6.2 (World History/Global Studies): All students will acquire the knowledge and skills to think analytically and systematically about how past interactions of people, cultures, and the environment affect issues across time and cultures. Such knowledge and skills enable students to make informed decisions as socially and ethically responsible world citizens in the 21st century.

STANDARD 6.3 (Active Citizenship in the 21st Century): All students will acquire the skills needed to be active, informed citizens who value diversity and promote cultural understanding by working collaboratively to address the challenges that are inherent in living in an interconnected world.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

Appendix A: Threats and Responses, The New York Times, January 20, 2003.

Appendix B: Peggy Noonan, Profiles Encouraged: Under the Circumstances, We must be Wary of Young Arab Men, The Wall Street Journal. October 19, 2001

Appendix C: Michael Elliot, The Shoe Bomber's World, Time, February 16, 2002 (excerpt).

Appendix D: Gordon Lubold, Homegrown Terrorism a Growing Concern for US Intelligence, Christian Science Monitor, February 4, 2010.

Appendix E: Carrie Johnson, Jihad Jane, an American Woman, Faces Terrorism Charges, The Washington Post, March 10, 2010.

Appendix F: Summary and Section 201 excerpted from the End Racial Profiling Act of 2007, Otherwise Known as House of Representatives (H.R.) 4611, 110th Congress.

Details of Activity

PART 1: Defining Profiling (20-25 min.):

Begin by asking students to define race. What does it mean? To whom does it apply? Ask them to define racial profiling, and share their experiences or knowledge about it. Explain that this lesson plan will be a case study of racial profiling as it applies to Muslims and Arabs in post-9/11 America.

Have students read the five case studies included in the New York Times article "Threats and Responses," published in 2003 (Appendix A). You may wish to divide the class into groups and assign each a separate case study to explore (each is less than a page in length). Explain that the article includes profiles of individuals suspected of terrorist activity who, the New York Times' reporter suggests, were the victims of racial profiling during a time when many believed it was necessary to monitor the Muslim/Arab population in the nation.

Such abbreviated profiles necessarily focus on some details and leave out others. After students read through materials have them try to put faces to the names of the people they have read about--what do they know about the personal and professional lives of the people in question? What details do they not know? Most importantly, have students consider how these profiles balance questions about individual rights and property (many of those interviewed estimated the financial cost of their profiling) with those of legal status and national safety. Some of these case studies were illegal immigrants. Should that matter?

PART 2: What Does Terrorism Look Like? (25 min.):

Divide students into groups (either 2 large groups or 4 smaller groups.) Explain that they will debate the effectiveness of racial profiling to capture domestic terrorists in America. Assign Appendices B through E, one per group, and ask students to consider the following questions based on the information in their article:

1. What does a "terrorist" look like (note to teacher: these articles were selected because they depict very different images of suspected or convicted terrorists)?

2. What is an act of terror?

3. Can laws help to catch these kinds of criminals and, if so, how?

4. Would increasing laws to restrain individuals such as those in the articles, affect other Americans' freedoms and actions too? If so, is the trade off necessary?

PART 3: Wrap Up Discussion (10 min.):

Finally, distribute Appendix F, an excerpt from and summary about the End Racial Profiling Act, first introduced in Congress in 2001 prior to the 9/11 attacks, and then repeatedly reintroduced to Congress over the next nine years (it is due to be reintroduced to both houses again this summer or fall, 2010). The concluding 10 minutes of class should be spent exploring the advantages and disadvantages of such a law. Ask students to consider the perspective of the authors of their respective articles. Would these people support or oppose such a law? Why or why not?

Practice and Reinforcement

Examine the controversy surrounding Arizona's racial profiling law aimed at its Hispanic population. Assign students to research the issue through newspaper articles online; each student should find one article supporting the measure and another opposing it. Have students bring these pieces to class, and compile a list of the benefits as well as the drawbacks of utilizing racial profiling to deal with the illegal immigrant population in Arizona.

Is Arizona's racial profiling law considered more palatable by Americans than New Jersey's racial profiling of African Americans on its highways? Than Arab American profiling since 9/11? Why? Why not? Is racial profiling justified in certain situations and not others? How do you decide? How do you balance keeping America safe with protecting/upholding its basic democratic principles?


For additional reading on racial profiling, see the following:

One America: With Justice for All (Formerly Hate Free Zone), "Racial Profiling: Face the Truth Campaign," 2010, http://www.weareoneamerica.org/racial-profiling-face-truth-campaign.

ACLU, "Racial Profiling," http://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/racial-profiling.

ACLU, Sanctioned Bias: Racial Profiling since 9/11 (February 2004): 1-24.

ACLU, "House to Hear Testimony on Racial Profiling Today" (Press Release), June 17, 2010, http://www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights-national-security-racial-justice/house-hear-testimony-racial-profiling-today.

Robyn Rodriguez, "Disunity and Diversity in Post-9/11 America," Sociological Forum 23:2 (June 2008): 379-389.

"Gov. Corzine Signs Racial Profiling Reforms into Law," NJ.com, August 27, 2009, http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2009/08/gov_corzine_signs_racial_profi.html

Randall C. Archibold, "Arizona Enacts Stringent Law on Immigration," New York Times, April 23, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/24/us/politics/24immightml.

Supplementary Materials






For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here