Why the Supreme Court’s unreasonable searches ruling matters to me
This is good news:
After thirty years of near carte blanche to police regarding auto searches, this decision supports an often-abused right to privacy. And it’s a “least-first” issue.
I have seen abuse by police. I’m a white, middle-class, middle-aged guy, so I’ve not seen it a lot. But on a couple of occasions, the curtain has lifted just enough to allow a glimpse onto a stage many Americans experience as normal life.
I saw it in the 1970s when law enforcement officers harassed and brutalized young Iowans during the days of anti-war demonstrations. I was shocked and terrified, utterly unable to judge whether I might become a target of police violence, even though I watched from my dormitory window.
I’ve seen it, more recently, in the life of a young friend who, identified as someone with whom law enforcement was “familiar,” became an easy mark for demeaning stops, trivial arrests and treatments that simply don’t happen to people like me.
Seems like the young and the poor—those with the least recourse for pushing back—are the typical targets. My friend made too much money to have court-appointed legal representation, but too little to have any hope of hiring his own. He couldn’t possibly plead “not guilty” — how would he pay his rent without the money he’d lose from time off work for hearings? How would he possibly know enough to represent himself?
So his debts grew, his life got a little harder, his record a little longer, his sense of helplessness a little deeper.
My outrage was less well-controlled. This generally doesn’t happen to guys like me; we don’t even know it happens. Yet, while telling the story to a young Hispanic mother, I realized she saw arrest as an inevitable consequence of being non-white in America, and dreaded the day it came to her boys.
In the few cases I’ve seen, it simply didn’t seem to occur to the officers involved that their duty was to defend these people they harassed—that bulling was betraying their duty as officers of “law enforcement.”
Perhaps the Supreme Court has made that law just a little clearer.
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Written by Monte
May 1, 2009 at 7:13 pm
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