This week I made my debut at In Justice Today, a blog founded by the Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School. My first post warns reformers not to focus solely on individual racist officers because color-blind policies can also have terrible impacts on communities of color:
While it is entirely fair to say that more crime justifies a greater police presence in a segment of a city, that crime does not — or, rather, should not obviate the constitutional rights of the people who live in that area. If statistics showed there were more child pornography producers and distributors in white neighborhoods, the police would not be justified going door to door to intimidate presumptively innocent residents to get consent to search their computers to combat child pornography. Residents would be outraged to be treated as criminal suspects and intimidated to surrender their rights. Yet the GRU eviscerates Fourth Amendment protections for young black men walking down the street as policy, irrespective of any racial prejudice by the officers.
If a policy is damaging a community, the good intent in the officers’ heart is functionally irrelevant.
You can read the whole post here.
I have an article in USA Today about some recent cases where people were arrested for invoking their constitutional rights. Here’s an excerpt:
Just because law enforcement have us at a serious disadvantage does not mean we should let them walk all over us. The wise course to take during police encounters is to obey commands, but to also politely and calmly decline requests. Here’s the key point: Law enforcement are trained to blur that distinction. For example, they may knock on your door and say, “Let’s talk.” In such cases, individuals have to seek the clarification by asking, “Are you ordering me to open my door and allow a search?”
If it isn’t an order, the choice is ours to make. If you give the police permission to search your home without a warrant, that’s your prerogative. If you decline to give your permission, that’s your prerogative also.
There is not enough space to say everything that needs to be said. For example, the article’s focus is on police stops in public–traffic stops or on a city sidewalk. Different rules apply for airport searches, or if you are seeking entrance to a government building. For those anxious to learn more, follow the links on the homepage here: Lawyer Up and Know Your Rights.
For the worst of March, we look to the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department scandal that has finally come to a close. Now-former Sheriff Lee Baca was found guilty of obstruction of justice for trying to hide various civil rights violations that were happening at the jail and within his department. Ten other officers, including Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, were convicted and sentenced to prison terms for beatings of inmates, general jail conditions, and hiding information from the federal government.
Before this scandal came to light several years ago, other LASD deputies were tried and convicted for sexually abusing inmates and other civil rights violations.
While some officers we cover are certainly bad apples, some departments create and maintain cultures of impunity for abusive officers. This allows misbehavior to become commonplace and even an integral part of how a department manages itself. This is a sad chapter in LASD’s history and hopefully the department can move on and regain the trust of the community it serves.