Unconstitutional police stops based on a racial bias (especially when it comes to marijuana offenses) have become all too common in New York City. Over the past few months (and even before that), many issues involving the NYPD’s “Stop & Frisk” program have come to light during the Floyd v. City of NY trial. Specifically, the large increase in the number of suspicion-less stop-and-frisks per year in communities of color. But it’s not just race targeting that is a problem. It is also the systemic failure of the criminal “justice” system; plea dealing, high bails, minimizing the amount of trials, etc. I’ve been working on a separate article on this for Forward Progressives, that I hope to complete sometime soon. However, in the mean time, it’s worth mentioning a few things about the constitutionality of street stops.
Many who are seemingly unfamiliar with how the Constitution works (except when it comes to the 2nd Amendment – which they pretend to be scholars on) have wrongly argued that no one has a right to complain about a racial bias if they are guilty. That, “if they committed a crime, they only have to point the finger at themselves.” But that type of attitude is perverse and misplaced in America, where we operate (in theory) on a system of innocent until proven guilty.
I repeat, innocent until proven guilty and certainly not innocent until proven black. Moreover, everyone has the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The penalty for the police not doing their job right and violating your rights is suppression of evidence. We DO NOT operate solely on a system of guilt or innocence, we operate on a system of guilt or non guilt. Even if someone is technically “guilty” because they are found with marijuana, if the police stopped and searched that person in an unconstitutional fashion, then the evidence should be thrown out and the case dismissed. The police must do their job within the confines of the law. They cannot target people for stops and searches based solely on race. If you ignorantly simplify the issue to, “well if he had marijuana he was breaking the law so who cares?” — you are very, very (I can’t stress this enough) very wrong. If the only reason the police found the marijuana was because they profiled someone based on race, rather than on the constitutional ground for a stop (which is having reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause) then the police screwed up. Thus, the evidence should be suppressed and the case dismissed. This is not a new or novel concept.
In sum, it doesn’t matter if someone is actually “guilty” i.e. they had the drugs on them when they were searched. In America, (in theory at least) we have rights (albeit there are many exceptions to the 4th Amendment – another topic for another article) and we have them regardless of our race. If the police target you based on your race rather than on suspicion, they have violated your rights. Furthermore, while there are a number of honest, good cops that do play by the rules, and are angered by those that do not, ultimately the bigger problem isn’t a good cops v. bad cops issue — it is a systemic policy problem that is in desperate need of reform.