Sunday, August 26, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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There's no dilemma about the ferry photo

A classic example of racial profiling is stopping an African-American man driving responsibly at 2 a.m. for the sole reason that he is driving while black. Skin color, not behavior.

Releasing a picture of two men of unknown descent, possibly Middle Eastern, who apparently took photographs of the interiors of ferry boats and went into areas tourists do not normally go is altogether different. Sounds like solid police work based on behavior, not skin color. The inordinate interest by these two men in the workings of the vessel was unusual and suspicious. It would be unusual and suspicious done by any person of any nationality or descent.

The behavior of these two men concerned the captain of the ferry. Good. He took the photos of the two men. It is his job to take steps to keep his ship safe. If passengers act strangely on the boat, the prudent thing to do is get more information, even if it makes the passengers uncomfortable.

Nobody said these men are guilty of anything. The FBI does, however, want to question them and has a right to seek public help in locating them.

Before this turns into the latest over-reaction story, consider that ferry officials have questioned behavior of a variety of ferry riders.

A few days ago, a Seattle Times photographer who is white was taking pictures near the Mukilteo ferry dock. He was stopped and questioned.

Just as police issue pictures of those who may be involved in kidnapping children in Amber Alerts or pictures from bank cameras of robbers of all stripes, the FBI issued the photos because they need help.

Certainly, it would have soothed feelings in the Muslim-American community if the FBI showed the pictures first to a few of their organizations. That might have been a better approach.

But let's not confuse good police work with racial profiling. The behavior of the men, not their skin color or assumed nationality, led to the release of their pictures and the request for help. Anyone who has information about their identity should report it immediately to the FBI.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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