Young: Above the law? No, profiling is below it (column)
August 29, 2016
More sad tidings for all you "law and order" types, particularly you candidates and elected sorts who think shortcuts to order are what law entails.
Another court has affirmed what long has been settled: police profiling is unlawful.
One twist: In this case, the traffic-stop criterion deemed illegal and pernicious isn't the color of a person's skin but of his or her license plates.
A federal appeals court ruled that Kansas police could not stop cars simply because they come from states with legal marijuana: Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C.
How will Kansas keep order? How, indeed, with jail-cell quotas to meet and town budget shortfalls to mend.
Granted, this could just be a matter of news traveling slowly. When the constitution was ratified, more than one state thought it had cast the deciding vote. It's possible, then, that Kansas has yet to hear that the 14th Amendment has, indeed, been ratified — in 1868.
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Or maybe Kansas didn't hear about something more recent: The 2013 federal appeals court ruling in Floyd vs. the City of New York that so-called "stop and frisk" tactics violated the due process and equal protection clauses of that amendment.
One guess as to what criteria police were using in that case.
The "law and order" crowd has much to say about Black Lives Matter. Critics portray the movement a one-trick pony, showing up only to exploit highly volatile and often murky cases, such as the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. So focused, say those critics, the movement is guilty of inciting violence against police.
But the fundamental atrocity that underpins Black Lives Matter isn't that. The fundamental atrocity is in lesser offenses.
In Austin, what a police officer did to school teacher Breaion King was alarming enough — throwing her to the ground during a videotaped traffic stop. However, what echoes in that community are the words of an officer lecturing King that white people fear black people because of "violent tendencies."
As with any gesture, it's the thought that counts.
In Arizona's Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio seems always to be one step ahead of the 14th Amendment.
He has turned up his nose at a federal judge's dictates to remedy a history of racial profiling. Now the U.S Justice Department has taken over the case with the prospect that Arpaio, seeking his seventh term in office, could be held in contempt of court.
A host of cities, by contrast, are taking these matters seriously.
Denver police recently unveiled a plan to record racial data for all stops made by police. This will be a useful means of making sure that "driving while black" is not a crime in Denver as it has become in far too many cities.
So, are black people, as that Austin cop appears to believe, asking for the uneven enforcement of the law that they receive?
Data from Rhode Island, Connecticut, South Carolina and Illinois say no, that they are being unfairly singled out.
Those states have done what Denver plans: maintain racial data relative to traffic stops. In each state, police were more apt to stop blacks than whites, though The New York Times reports, police "consistently found drugs, guns or other contraband more often if the driver was white."
Even if the shoe were on the other foot. Even if officers' race-based suspicious were justified, unequal enforcement of the law is illegal. End of discussion. One would think.
Long-time newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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