The Killing of Trayvon: What Is Profiling?

Profiling is “ratiocination” á la Sherlock Holmes fame. Or, reasoning from extraordinarily sharp observation. So you see, not everybody is capable of “profiling”. A profile, from the viewpoint of the one doing the profiling, is a summary of characteristics. The “characteristic” is one element in a set of elements that have been generated by a scientific method of definition. That method must be detailed to yield a true, valid, reliable and demonstrated element acceptable after a scientific process that reaches for validity by the assent of a number of scientists passing judgment. The results usually come out published in a scientific journal after the article has undergone a rather rigorous process of evaluation by the writers peers. Not just anyone, I repeat, can set up a “characteristic” as a valid element in a profile. A profile is a number of characteristics put into a set. Only THEN may a profiler act upon his or her judgment, properly sanctioned by society.

Anything less than that is “by guess and by gosh”, and just anyone will do it. Do we really want that? (Those are the problems at the airports. Or at the U.S. border to the south.)

Profiling needs to be taught to people who will use the profiling elements fairly, scientifically and reliably. They must establish a record of accuracy in observation.

In the case of the recent killing of Trayvon Martin by a so-called “community watch” man, you know what the elements used as an excuse for the killing were. A Mr. Zimmerman said the guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something, it’s raining, he’s just walking around looking about. And the dispatcher asks if he’s white or black or Hispanic. Zimmerman responded that he looks black. The dispatcher asks what he’s wearing. Zimmerman says he’s wearing a dark hood, like a grey hoodie, jeans, sweat pants and white tennis shoes.


A watchman with a gun? Wearing it for self-protection? Okay. But the temptation in Zimmerman’s case was to be judge, jury, and executioner. Training in profiling would be required for such a watchman, there, and everywhere in the United States where there is a watchman, from airports to junk yards.

Anyone can be a profiler, but only with rigorous training. That case of the killing of Trayvon is a catastrophic example of the absence of expertise in profiling.

I have a personal interest in this topic. I taught a university course in nonverbal communication. Profiling is a matter of reading nonverbal signals. It would really make things a lot easier if the perp would say to you, “I’m a criminal, and I intend to do something criminal right now.” However, he or she can actually be saying just that, in a language even he or she does not know he or she is speaking in the “language” of nonbverbal behavior. An open book is what they are, there for you to read if you can read that language.

We are having fun with our Netflix subscription. We are regularly viewing a dramatization of everything I have been writing about in this essay. You can see it, too. The program is called “Lie to Me”. Good show. Really, really good show! All about profiling, or, nonverbal communication.



  1. Inspirational writing. My soul is enlightened by your type words and warm heart.

  2. Zimmerman is obviously innocent, let him go and save some tax payer money.

  3. I think this is among the most vital info for me. And i am glad reading your article. But wanna remark on some general things, The web site style is great, the articles is really nice : D. Good job, cheers

  4. Ratiocination indeed:)

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