Sunday, February 19, 2006
In this article, Professor Brandon Garrett from Virginia Law's Center for the Study of Race and the Law, discusses how political pressure, lawsuits, and the U.S. Department of Justice's efforts to track and compile statistics on police-use of racial profiling, encouraged the New York Police Department to reform their policies. "This whole movement (away from NYPD's use of racial profiling) says interesting things about police and their openness to change, but also the circumstances where pressure can lead to something more constructive, even in situations where it seemed like lawsuits were doomed to fail," Garrett said.
He explained that class-action lawsuits challenging racial profiling were often doomed to fail, because Fourth Amendment jurisprudence often clashes with these suits' use of equal protection theories to demonstrate that race is a motivating factor for police action. After all, "reasonable suspicion" has been defined to include something as subjective as spotting someone in a neighborhood where the individual appears to be out of place. In short, police are allowed to use race as one, but not the only factor. For example, in one case, police stopped all young black men in a mostly white town, looking for cuts on their hands, after an elderly woman was raped by a man matching that description. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a dismissal of the case because the stop was based not only on race but on sex and age. Nevertheless, the public and political pressure that these suits have provoked, has encouraged such police reforms, not only in New York, but also in Florida and Ohio. More. . . [Mark Godsey]