Grieving Justice

Two more African American men dead at the hands of police in circumstances where armed intervention looked unnecessary. The deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in the suburbs of St. Paul remind us that #BlackLivesMatter still matters.

According to Julia Craven in The Huffington Post [], six out of ten African American men report being unfairly treated by police. 6 out of 10. That’s the majority. And though more white men may be shot overall, black men are five times more likely to be shot by police than white men their age.

As shocking and horrifying as unnecessary deaths are, they are the tip of the iceberg in a system that sees black people, especially young black men, as criminals unless proven otherwise. In our own city, we see the racial disparities in marijuana arrests increasing as time goes by, as shown by the figures from the Manhattan Coalition for Equal Justice.

In this atmosphere, the recent Supreme Court decision (Utah v Strieff) limiting the Fourth Amendment guarantee against illegal searches and seizures appalls me. The court OK’d the idea that police may use evidence obtained from an illegal stop, if in the process of the stop they find a warrant out. Justice Sotomayor wrote a tough dissent that you might want to check out. In short, if police can use such evidence, there is nothing to limit illegal searches. Even though Strieff himself is white, this decision is particularly bad news for people of color, who are much more often the victims of illegal searches. I fear this case will increase illegal searches, and the racial disparities will skyrocket.

The Strieff decision demonstrates the tendency of the justice system to trust the police, even when they are in violation of the law, a violation the state of Utah admitted to! If the justice system is unable to protect people from the police, and if police are able to shoot to kill for little or no reason, none of us have real protections. And people of color are the most vulnerable.

I grieve for the pointless deaths. I am in sympathy with the families and friends. More and more, though, I also grieve for a justice system that is lost.

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