Friday, March 11, 2005

Thanks for guesting on such short notice--Don

How much of our freedoms are we willing to give up for our own sense of safety, property values, etc? Or I should say, how much of OTHER PEOPLE's freedoms are we willing to give up for our own safety. My wife and I are expecting to soon move to East Nashville, a historic area that is reviving but still has a reputation for crime and poverty.

Recent local news stories have heralded the Nashville police efforts to crack down on crime by a high number of traffic stops. (For the life of me I cant find them on the web now, but I read them). These stories and opeds laud the fact that police are stopping a huge amount of automobiles in east nashville and also searching more cars which is leading to more drug and weapons charges. During this love fest, no one has raised the issue of whether this is also showing an increase in illegal stops and search and seizures. (which helps no one because the cases get thrown out, or if not, we have allowed someone's rights to be trampled on).

My time in Boston at a criminal defense clinic taught me a lot about the well-founded lack of trust minorities have of the justice system. Many of our cases started with improper searches of minorities or their vehicles. I launched some novel theories to attack the traffic stops based on a new law in which Massachusetts required police officers to identify the race of everyone they stopped on tickets. A freedom of information act request revealved shocking statistics. In one of my cases, in the three months prior to my client being pulled over, officers had stopped more than 90 percent black or hispanic individuals. Yes, this was a predominantly black and hispanic area, but not 90 percent.

It seemed to follow what I learned from my law school colleagues. In my criminal procedure class, the professors asked people who had ever been stopped to raise their hands, and about 75 percent did so. He began saying, how many have been pulled over twice, three times, ... and hands began to drop. When he got to six, every black law student's hand in the room was still up. They each had a story to tell that would make you gulp.

Everyone says they are against racial profiling and acknowledge that it exists generally. But they never seem to be willing to admit that a specific situation indeed is ever really profiling. They expect the proof to be that some police officer on the CB says, hey there's a minority, pull him over. Of course, that type of proof is never there. What we are left with is a whole country of people who admit racial profiling is awful, but 90 percent of the country think that it only happens in someone else's neighborhood. As I was going to tell a judge (until my law school supervisor correctly cautioned me): Prosecutors and Judges acknowledge racial profiling in speeches and at weekend cocktail parties. But Monday thru Friday in criminal court, they'll be damned if they ever see a case of it.

A Tennessee lawmaker is asking police to keep the same records of stops here. But, my question generally is how do we convince white middle class types to stand up for civil liberties when they rarely have the type of threats to their liberties that minorities do? In this homeland security area, where do we draw the line even if it means the bad guys get away?
--Kenny B

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