On March 4th, the Department of Justice released its report on the actions of the police department in Ferguson, MO. A catalyst for international headlines and national action, the August 9th, 2014 murder of Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson unleashed thousands of people into the streets and sparked months of protests and calls for inquiry. The result is one hundred pages of incidents and analysis, made public by the Justice Department in keeping with its calls for more transparency in Ferguson. Earlier this week, Fusion asked intellectuals, activists, journalists, and citizens to weigh in with their reactions to the report. Their responses varied in tone and focus, but all reflect the question on the hearts and minds of people across America: what happens now?
Throughout our history, police departments have been used to keep slaves, ex-slaves and black communities in check - and under control of whites. Authorities (and sometimes non-officials, such as the KKK, in collusion) were given free hand to violate all our constitutional rights. Their actions were always justified and protected by larger white community that did (does) not care about tactics [of police brutality] and does not want to know about them. Violation of our 4th amendment rights has been par for the course since the adoption of the Constitution.
Paul Delaney / Founding Member of the National Association for Black Journalists
As an educator who is teaching sexuality in a comprehensive way with youth of color exclusively, I always include discussions on interacting with law enforcement, detention facilities, and immigration. This is *never* presented in sexuality education, but with queer youth and trans youth whose gender expression may make them more visible to law enforcement. Because we think about femininity and masculinity in very specific ways, when young people challenge those ideas they become hyper visible. If they are Black queer or trans youth they are already targeted based on race - Stop & Frisk policies specifically, but its how law enforcement is trained in general.
I think queer and trans youth of color need to be prepared for how adults, especially law enforcement, consume their appearance in very particular ways that result in stereotypes and more profiling. Often I help youth understand what their rights include and how to respectfully respond to law enforcement. However, it is never a guarantee they will not be harmed or assaulted or have their rights violated. I often discuss the 4th Amendment: and we even practice saying "I don't consent to a search" in a tone that is even and not hysterical or angry. Many youth don't know they do not need to consent to a search, especially in the subway. I also focus on the 5th Amendment (self-incrimination) and 6th Amendment (assistance of counsel for defense). Many immigrant youth may fear law enforcement, but the 6th Amendment grants counsel to them as well, even if through the consulate of their country of origin. The issues become more blurry if they are undocumented and that is a different form of detention.
I often try to remind students to remain quiet! They do not have to speak to police officers if they are arrested until they speak with an attorney. I try to explain what this means if they are arrested on a Saturday night, what night court entails, and the classist set up of bail in US court systems.
The Policy Analyst
There are different threads of legal doctrine behind the NSA’s electronic surveillance and the casual violation of the right to be free from unreasonable seizures of the person common in many minority communities, but there are also some common factors. The drug war has been a huge driver of the ever-growing exceptions to the ordinary requirements of the Fourth Amendment, because it’s inherently difficult to criminalize voluntary transactions without invading privacy—there’s no victim to complain. The vast majority of wiretaps are for drug investigations, and searching for narcotics is also a big motive behind stop-and-frisk campaigns. Class is probably a factor. The outrages that inspired the Fourth Amendment were warrantless home searches by customs agents—middle class merchants getting their doors busted down by customs agents often described as “menial servants.” The rise of regular, professionalized police (and intelligence services), and the focus of searches on marginalized populations, flips that class dynamic: The cops are now socially much closer to the judges. The primary mechanism for enforcing the Fourth Amendment was supposed to be direct suit against the violating state agent, but for a variety of complicated reasons the main enforcement mechanism now is the exclusionary rule [which prohibits the use of evidence obtained in violation of someone's constitutional rights].
The practical effect of this is that Fourth Amendment cases nearly always concern guilty people trying to get evidence excluded on appeal of a conviction—whereas, in the intelligence arena the courts are only hearing from the government. That has to affect a court’s cumulative judgments about what level of invasion is “reasonable.”
The core of a repressive society is discretionary invasion—whether of thoughts or of bodies. It’s vital that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t just talk about the right of individuals to be free from searches; it guarantees the right of the people, collectively, to be secure against unreasonable searches. Because the harm of weakening our protections against search isn’t just felt by the people directly targeted, but by whole communities. Foucault talked about the power of a “panoptic” society to create "docile bodies”—he saw monitoring as a form of training and control, one that exerted disciplinary force on targeted populations by creating a constant awareness of being subject to the gaze and will of the authorities. The net effect of that is utterly lethal to a free society.
The Conservative Activist
Although the DOJ report rightfully clears Darren Wilson of any civil rights violations, it is obvious the Department of Justice is skewing the truth on Fourth Amendment rights violations in Ferguson, Missouri. It's an unfortunate reality that there's a high crime rate in the African-American population of our country, which is largely due to high poverty rates and a trend of broken families that are the result of big government policies crafted by big government politicians.The DOJ report relishes in that same mission with its findings, which assume that almost all police officers in Ferguson are racially targeting African-Americans to spitefully promote injustice and police brutality. Remember, this is the same dishonest DOJ that covered up the Fast and Furious scandal, colluded with the IRS to target the Obama administration's political adversaries, and is committed to dividing the American people over racial politics in an effort to advance a far-Left agenda for everyone. They should not be trusted.
The Civil Rights Activist
Driving While Black, Shopping While Black, Walking While Black, or plain just Anything While Black.To be Black in America, is to potentially be the victim of one or all of these experiences in your lifetime. And sometimes - like for Eric Garner and Michael Brown - these experiences end in tragedy. I recall a traumatic experience at a popular retail store. I had just finished browsing for clothes and noticed that a white woman set off the alarm gate as she exited. No security chased after her, no one batted an eye. The alarm had sound multiple times as I shopped. But I grew anxious. When I exited I too set off the alarm, but I didn't get to freely exit like the young lady. I was stopped by security and asked to empty my pockets as they searched my bag. I was humiliated by customers' gazes of assumptions that I was a thief. I felt watched, I felt suspected and criminalized. He handed me back my bag and smiled. I left. That was my last time shopping there.
Comments have been condensed for length and clarity.