Justice Sotomayor’s Dissent: A Jagged Pill to Swallow for Minorities

“(A) warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.” – Justice Sotomayor

On Monday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a scathing letter of dissent after five of her colleagues ruled to uphold a prior ruling that many consider to be a propagation of white supremacy.

The ruling stems from the stop of Edward Joseph Strieff Jr., who was arrested after leaving a home that was under surveillance. The home was not his residence and he was arrested on an outstanding traffic warrant.

Mr. Strieff was taken into custody after police found meth and drug paraphernalia on his person. According to her objection, the 5-3 majority opinion will help continue generations of practices in which law enforcement purposefully targets Black and Brown citizens.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority and held that the arrest was valid and the evidence was admissible, overturning a ruling made by the Utah Supreme Court.

Those in favor of the ruling against Mr. Strieff agreed that the officer made mistakes during the arrest, but downplayed how it could have greater ramifications when applied to the greater contemporary society. A society that many believe is rife with bigotry and institutionalized racism.

“There is no indication that this unlawful stop was part of any systemic or recurrent police misconduct,” Thomas wrote. “To the contrary, all the evidence suggests that the stop was an isolated instance of negligence that occurred in connection with a bonafide investigation of a suspected drug house.”

“Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong,” Sotomayor wrote.”The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” she added.

“It is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny,” she wrote. “For generations, black and brown parents have given their children ‘the talk’ — instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger — all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them.

“By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time,” she added. “It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”

Sotomayor was joined in her descent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Justice Elena Kagan. Although the defendant in this case was a white male, Sotomayor reasoned that such tactics can be used to target and harass members of a particular community with legal impunity.

Such community targeting tactics were brought to light in the aftermath of the Ferguson riots, when it was discovered that the vast majority of traffic tickets, jaywalking tickets and those forced to succumb to vehicle searches during traffic stops were of African descent.

In their investigation, the Department of Justice found that black drivers were twice as likely to have their cars searched during traffic stops, despite whites being 26 percent more likely to have some sort of contraband.

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Additionally, 96 percent of Ferguson residents cited for jaywalking and 92 percent of those charged with disturbing the peace were Black. This, despite making up only 67 percent of the population.

Also, Blacks were 88 percent more likely to have force used against them by the police and 100 percent more likely to be bitten by police dogs when the race of the victim was reported. Ferguson is a small town of only around 21,000 people, but you had better believe this is happening all over America.

Big cities have turned such tactics into a science. But, please don’t take my word for it. It’s very easy to research. The New York Civil Liberties Union reports that of the 5 million instances in which “suspects” were subjected to the now defunct stop and frisk tactics between 2002 and 2015, nine out of ten were completely innocent of any offense.

Blacks made up around 55 percent of those stopped, yet compose only 23 percent of the city’s population.While the total number of stop and frisk arrests in New York have dropped by upwards of 90 percent according to some estimates, Black and Brown citizens are still far more likely to be accosted by law enforcement than White New Yorkers.

Whether local, statewide or federal, Black and Brown Americans have had painfully little legal protection from policies that are clearly race based.

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(Stats are for North Carolina)

For some, Sotomayor’s letter of dissent is a bittersweet yet jagged little pill to swallow.

On one hand, there are those who believe that having three Supreme Court judges side against the white supremacist elements that seem apparent within the criminal justice system is a great thing. But others believe the system will never rule against its own world view, and is only doing what it was designed to do – to politically neuter, physically subjugate, philosophically dilute and eventually whittle away Black and Brown communities across the United States.

Race based policing is the American way, period. The sooner we all can admit to this glaring fact, the faster we can get to tearing it apart, brick by brick.

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