Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stripping/Civil Rights

The Supreme Court took a giant step toward dismantling the 4th Amendment last week when it (predictably) voted 5-4 in Florence v. New Jersey to permit the police to strip search anyone for any offense, regardless of how minor the offense. In the test case before the court, here are the details:  "Mr. Florence was in the passenger seat of his BMW when a state trooper pulled his wife, April, over for speeding. A records search revealed an outstanding warrant for Mr. Florence’s arrest based on an unpaid fine. (The information was wrong; the fine had been paid.) Mr. Florence was held for a week in jails in Burlington and Essex Counties, and he was strip-searched in each" (NYT).

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Breyer wrote that people have been subjected to “the humiliation of a visual strip search” after being arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal and riding a bicycle without an audible bell. A nun was strip-searched, he wrote, after an arrest for trespassing during an antiwar demonstration (NYT).

This is an unprecedented step for the Court to take. While the decision claims to grant police more "flexibility", it also clearly opens the door to extraordinary abuse.

The Court's ruling not only tramples a basic Constitutional right, but it also opens the door for further discrimination in "predatory" race-based police practices. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander cites a study (also from New Jersey) which found that while "only 15% of all drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike were racial minorities...42% of all stops and 73% of all arrests were of black motorists — despite the fact that black and white motorists violated traffic laws at almost exactly the same rate" (133). 

4 comments:

David K. said...

I think you're completely right Mr. O'Connor. We all know the saying, "with great power comes great responsibility". As Americans have so unfortunately found, keeping in mind the national debt and the endless wars, the government has very little responsibility. And if we can agree on that premise, the resolution should be to grant less power to the government, not more. Letting the government strip search people for just about anything is incredibly humiliating (I suspect) and perverse.

Since I seem to be liking sayings so much, I'll throw another one out there. As Lord Acton (correctly) wrote, "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". If we are to remain a free people, we must only grant the government minimal powers. And in my opinion, these minimal powers should not include the ability to strip search whomever seems ripe for the plucking. It deeply saddens me to see the U.S. Constitution treated like toilet paper.

Donna said...

Haha David I appreciate your comparison of the U.S. Consttiution to toilet paper. Very powerful image. I completely agree that the government's extreme enforcement of strip searches is an abuse of power and are infringing on our Constitutional rights.

This extreme and invasive form of control is a current trend that has been steadily increasing over the past decade in our society, specifically in airport security. Since last year, most airports have installed full-body scanners (machines that display the traveler's naked body under their clothes to look for hidden objects without having to physically remove their clothing). This is an extremely controversial practice that the public feels is both unnecessary and invasive. Full body pat downs are just as effective and are much less expensive than high-tech machinery. This form of security is just another example of extreme actions against the public and an abuse of their power.

Jasmine T. said...

I too enjoy the comparison of the Constitution to toilet paper. But I think that the problem I have with this situation is the racial profiling that was used by police officers and other law enforcement officers. Even though strip searching is definitely a huge issue, i think the bigger problem is racial profiling in law enforcement. It is racially separating the public and causing unequal treatment of the public and i think that is something that should be addressed. Like anything else law enforcement officers should not arrest people, or suspect people of crimes based on their race, and that is an issue that hasn't really been addressed or fixed even though it is an extremely important issue.

Betsy P said...

After writing my final on the stationary cycle of discrimination, it seems to me the court's ruling is just another subtle piece of the current system of racial control: the prison-industrial complex. Because although the law is "an unprecedented step," underneath it is constructed with the same underlying tactics found during slavery and Jim Crow. As Michelle Alexander states in The New Jim Crow, because “it is no longer socially permissible to use, race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination…we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind.”

I think the reason why current “race-based polices practices” appear to not share the “supposedly left behind practice” of slavery and Jim Crow because that is a narrative Americans do not want to see—and know the truth. Because just how in The Kentucky Cycle when JT exclaims, “You won’t be part of his story Mary Ann!...people will call him a hero, a great man, a Real Christain!—And that story is the one that’ll survive – he’ll see to that. While the story, the one where’s he’s just a thief, that’ll fade away. That’s your “truth” (165) – The only story of discrimination “that’ll survive” is the one that whitewashes the “truth": discrimination has not progressed in America.