To Make Black Lives Matter, We Must Tear Down the Case Law that Gave Police the Power to Stop, Search, and Abuse

This piece originally appeared at The Guardian.

Something is missing from the debate over police reform. Though police killings of Black men have sparked a nationwide movement to stop police violence, the police can fairly ask whether they deserve all of the blame.

That’s not because current levels of police violence are warranted (they aren’t), or because policing is race neutral (it isn’t). It’s because the chief architects of American policing are not police departments; they’re courts. The movement for police reform should be joined by an equally ambitious movement for court reform.

Courts have shaped American policing by defanging the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Because the term “unreasonable” is unclear, courts have had to decide which police intrusions, beyond the blatantly arbitrary, go too far. And the U.S. Supreme Court’s consistent answer has been that scarcely anything goes too far.

Perhaps most important, the court held in Whren v. United States that the Fourth Amendment permits officers to use any violation, like a broken tail light, as a pretext to stop people they deem suspicious. This decision, which just reached its 20th anniversary, helped cement modern-day racial profiling.

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Steven Huddleston

Very good point. Too bad you ruin it by ONLY advocating for black lives. Don't you understand that ALL lives matter?

You murdered my faith in the ACLU years ago (in 2002, to be precise) and your blindness in this matter only confirms what I learned about you then.

Anonymous

Don't you understand Black Lives Matter and how saying All Lives Matter appears racist and at minimum ingnorant?

Anonymous

This is not complicated; Black Lives Matters does not imply Only Black Lives Matter. The movement is to create a society where Black lives are valued. When those who are priviledged stop seeing equality as oppression then there will be understanding of the BLM movement.

Anonymous

Black Lives Matter ALSO

Anonymous

If all lives matter then logic dictates that black lives matter.

Michael S.

Boo hoo. We'll say all lives matter when it's actually true.

Anonymous

Nobody asked you to insert that word "only" into the phrase. I wonder what would make you imagine an extra word that isn't there? Hearing problem or something else? Do you find the same hearing/thinking symptom occurs when you see a "Save the Whales" bumper sticker where you imagine it's saying "Only the whales, the other animals don't matter" or is it particular to this case?

Anonymous

Imagine that you and I are at a resaurant with our friend Fred. We all order and pay for our food. The server brings me my hamburger and your lasagna then walks away. In this situation we all deserve our food, but Fred is the only one not eating.

Anonymous

Why are we arguing over a name. It honestly doesn't matter.

ajm5007

"Very good point. Too bad you ruin it by ONLY advocating for black lives."

Reading comprehension must not be your strong suit because literally no one did that. No one EVER only advocated for black lives. Not even once. Not in this article. Not in these comments. Not ever. Learn to read, please.

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