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African-Americans for years waged a loud and consistent campaign against racial profiling -- the practice of broadly targeting one race of people because of the criminal actions of a few.

But profiling Arab-Americans, they say, seems fair.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, blacks tend to favor a policy that singles out Arab-Americans for special scrutiny at airport check-in counters, according to a poll conducted by Zogby International that tracked public opinion over two weeks from late September to early October.

At one point during the polling, 60 percent of blacks said they would favor such a policy, compared with only 45 percent of survey respondents overall. That gap eventually closed, putting blacks on par with the overall survey group, but not below it.

A Gallup Poll conducted shortly after the attacks showed an even higher percentage of blacks supporting similar policy, though Gallup officials said the number of blacks polled was too small to be considered representative.

In the search for explanations, local African-American leaders say poll results can be biased and don't necessarily reflect the deeper beliefs of the black community. Some also point to the historical tension between Arab-Americans and blacks in inner-city neighborhoods, especially in Buffalo.

But while most black community leaders agree that any form of racial profiling is wrong, that message may not be getting through to all members of the black community.

Many local black residents who were asked similar survey questions seemed willing to cast aside the moral implications surrounding racial profiling for what they consider to be more practical and immediate considerations of national security.

Helen Smith, for one, said extensive security measures and special identification for Arab-Americans are crucial to ferreting out terrorists.

"If they show identification," she said, "then you know for sure who they are, and they're not on 'America's Most Wanted' or using fake IDs."

She added that Arabs who are U.S. citizens should not be immune from such policies.

"Who's to say that you can trust them?" Smith said. "Who's to say they're not living here hiding out terrorists? I know all the Arabic people in my neighborhood. I treat them nice, but they still need to be checked."

At airport check-in counters, airlines already flag and question passengers with names that could correspond to a list of known or suspected terrorists.

Cameron Bailey Sr., a former Marine who was getting ready to board a plane at Buffalo Niagara International Airport recently, cited American history and likened the targeting of Arabs to the rounding up of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

"That, historically, is the way it's been," Bailey said. "I have nothing personal against (Arabs), but I do believe the people in the U.S. should be safeguarded."

Frank Mesiah, president of the Buffalo Chapter of the NAACP, said he believes the polls could be wrong or biased, given the intense campaign among African-Americans in recent years to end some police departments' targeting of black drivers and residents.

But if the polls are right, he said, blacks have assumed the unflattering traits they've long criticized in whites.

"It's unfortunate that it would be African-Americans that have suffered this kind of terror and profiling at the hands of the police . . . to then support this type of profiling," he said.

Henry L. Taylor, a professor at the University at Buffalo's Center for Urban Studies in the School of Architecture and Planning, dismissed the poll results as representing superficial and reactionary opinions.

"They're paper-thin, and they don't last," Taylor said. "A lot of this is being looked at in relation to national security, and a lot of people, African-Americans included, have not looked at the civil implications of these questions. Right now, we're in a time period where anything that looks like it will preserve the security of a nation is going to be embraced."

Marginalized groups such as the black community initially may overreact in an attempt to prove they are as patriotic as any other American, but such knee-jerk sentiment inevitably gives way to more careful consideration over time, he said.

Sheila Kimbrough, a Buffalo resident interviewed at the airport, acknowledged that targeting Arab-Americans for special treatment was not necessarily fair.

"Terrorism could be anyone," she conceded. "I mean, look at Timothy McVeigh."

But that didn't stop her from holding fast to the belief that Arab-Americans need to be singled out for tougher scrutiny.

"I really feel security is really important," she said. "We are talking lives."

Buffalo Common Council Member Charley H. Fisher III said he was surprised that the blacks who were surveyed did not consider the tougher Arab-American security measures to be a form of racial profiling.

But both he and Taylor attributed at least some of the anti-Arab sentiment to a long history of tension between African-Americans and Arab-American store owners who set up corner markets in predominantly poor, black city neighborhoods.

Fisher has been lobbying for a deli licensing law and has led protests against Arab-owned delis on the East Side that he has accused of bad business practices or criminal activity.

Nevertheless, he said, such neighborhood experiences do not represent the big picture nationwide.

"We have to protect the rights of all Americans," he said, "or all of us are going to lose our rights."

Khalid Qazi, president of the Western New York Chapter of the American Muslim Council, noted that even before Sept. 11, Arab-Americans were targeted for extra scrutiny.

"Now, obviously, it's even worse," he said.

Many in the Arab-American and Muslim communities say they are willing to cooperate with some extra anti-terrorist precautions that may directly affect them in the short run, Qazi said, but there must be limits.

"I guess we have to decide at some point where our freedoms ought to be in relation to the Constitution," he said. "The community of Muslim Americans and Arab-Americans, by and large, are as patriotic as any other American community."

He also said he hoped the poll results would change as more time passes.

Taylor and Mesiah noted that the country's black leadership has preached against racial profiling and won't stop now.

"Part of the responsibilities of leadership is to challenge those retrogressive trends," Taylor said.

John W. Dixon, a Broadway Market security chief and head of the local Junior Uniformed Mentoring Program for inner-city youths, said too few people recognize the lessons of history.

"I feel ignorance plays a big role in this," he said. "If these people know what happened to us 200 years ago, or what happened to the Japanese in World War II, they would realize this is a step backward. I understand we're afraid, and everyone should take special precautions, but we should not start punishing U.S. citizens because of the acts of a few."


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