Friday, July 20, 2012

The Police vs. Your Rights: One Constitution and Two Different Results for Blacks and Whites-Video

How One Constitution Can Have Two Different Results for Blacks and Whites.

Earlier this week we did a post informing people about their Constitutional Rights under the 4th Amendment whenever they are pulled over by the police while driving.  In that piece, we examined how the Jay-Z song "99 Problems" is instructive in knowing what the police can and, more importantly, cannot do when it comes to searching you and your vehicle during a routine traffic stop.  In our conclusion of that post we encouraged our readers to respectfully exercise their rights when talking with the police, which is our way of intimating that people -- especially Black people -- should be careful whenever they exercise their Constitutional rights with the police.  This goes without saying for many within the Black community so we didn't feel the need to elaborate much further.  Indeed, experience has taught us that the civil rights of all people can be violated by the police at any given time for any given reason without any legal justification.  This is especially true if you happen to be Black.
When it comes to knowing your rights, you may be surprised to learn that many police officers actually do not know the law.  In fact, most do not.  They know their training, and they know certain of their actions are prohibited, but you will rarely find a police officer who can tell you what is contained in the 4th, 5th, or 6th Amendments to the Constitution or the corresponding criminal procedure laws enacted by their own state.  After all, their job is to protect and serve which does not require a law degree.  It is important to keep this in mind because when you demonstrate that you know more about the law than the police officer you're talking to it can have varying results.  And you should know that these results largely depend on the individual prejudices harbored by the police officer.
Consider the following:
A White male is seen walking down the street carrying a gun in broad daylight.  A police officer approaches him, takes his weapon and demands ID. The man refuses.  The cop persists and the White male continues to refuse to provide his ID and, what's more, the White male proceeds to tell the police officer about the law.   He cites to case law and statutes which, according to the White male, support his Constitutional right to refuse to comply with the police officer.  He questions the officer as to why he is being detained and what law(s) he has broken, if any.  When the officer doesn't seem to be able to produce any justification for the detention, the White male then requests the officer's supervisor.  The supervisor arrives on the scene, confirms that the White male's assertions are correct, returns his weapon to him and he is allowed to leave without so much as a ticket and without ever having provided his name to the police.  You can see this exchange take place here:

Meanwhile, a Black male is seen walking through a parking lot also carrying a gun in broad daylight.  A police officer approaches him and demands ID. The man refuses. The cop persists and the Black male continues to refuse to provide his ID and, what's more, the Black male proceeds to tell the police officer about the law.  He questions the officer as to why he is being detained and what law(s) he has broken, if any.  However, this time we see a different result.  Unlike our White friend up above who was allowed to leave with his gun without ever having provided his ID to the police, the Black male is threatened and then tazered by the police officer.  When more officers arrive on the scene, they join in as well.  The officers provide no justification for their demands other than telling the Black male "you've just committed an infraction."  See the exchange below:

Clearly, we have two different results for the same type of situation.   A White man refused to give ID, cited the law and was freed.  A Black man refused to give ID, cited the law and was tazered and placed in handcuffs.  The same provision of the Constitution applies to both men, yet we see here two very different results.
Before we conclude, this situation is also instructive on another point - how to respond to police when the police are clearly in the wrong.  If we go back to our post from earlier this week for just a moment, the most important part of the entire post -- and probably the most overlooked point in the entire post -- was stated in the first bullet point: 

So I pull over [to the side of the road] At this point, Jay-Z has been seized, for purposes of Fourth Amendment analysis, because he has submitted to a show of police authority. He has thus preserved his Fourth Amendment claims. If you are stopped illegally and want to fight it later, you have to submit to the show of authority.

As the author of the St. Louis law review article further noted:
In ["99 Problems"], if the police find the contraband, he’ll be able to challenge it in court. Smart decision here by Jay-Z.
In other words, if the police are clearly in the wrong but attempt to detain you anyway, then you must play along and allow yourself to be detained.  You will have your day in court afterwards, but the bottom line is that the police still have the right to detain you EVEN IF they are later discovered to be dead wrong by a court of law. 

How do you reconcile these 2 cases?  Can they be reconciled? 
If the roles of the suspects in each video were reversed, what result?
What are your thoughts on what happened in each video?
Have you ever experienced a similar situation with the cops?  What happened?
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