Monday, April 13, 2015
Policing, Mass Imprisonment, and the Failure of American Lawyers
It did not surprise me that almost every child in the D.C. public high school class raised a hand when I asked if any of them had been stopped and searched by the police. When I told them that being stopped without reasonable suspicion that they were committing a crime is a violation of the United States Constitution, one of the students corrected me: “No, you don’t understand, these are the
Jumpouts, not the police. They’re allowed to do that.” I’m used to people laughing in disbelief when I do constitutional rights trainings in heavily policed communities. But when I heard those words, my heart sank. In front of me was a child in whose world being stopped and frisked was so regular, such a fact of everyday life, that he had reasonably concluded that it must be lawful. This child was growing up believing that his suspicious body could be probed at will by government employees. One by one, the students described to me the routine that they had developed to turn and face the nearest wall while officers searched through their backpacks and pockets on the way home from school. Like many of the problems in the criminal legal system, there is no genuine dispute that these and more serious illegalities are happening on a massive scale. In the seven years that I have spent working in American courts and jails, one thing sticks out above all else: the divergence between the law as it is written and the law as it is lived.