Stop and Frisk Writ Large


The policies of officers stopping people for minor or nonexistent offenses has been well documented, most recently in the Floyd case out of New York, where a federal judge found the practice unconstitutional.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently denied a request for rehearing which would have raised a similar issue.  The case is United States v. Kareen Rasul Green (No. 11-1558).  Judge Barkett, joined by Judge Martin, dissented from the denial, and she did so in particularly strong terms.  Interestingly, she discussed the relevance, or irrelevance as the case may be, of  a “high-crime neighborhood” which is often a proxy for race, as a factor that is often used to justify a stop.  According to Judge Barkett:

[T]he fact that the stop occurred in a high-crime area cannot, on its own, justify this frisk.  The vast majority of people that live, work, or travel through high-crime neighborhoods do not participate in any criminal activities, much less activities that put officers and other community members at risk.  This is, in part, why several of our sister circuits have warned of “the dangers of relying too easily or too heavily on these contextual factors.”

Judge Barkett does not stop there, however:

Focusing on the fact that a crime occurs in a purportedly high-crime area carries with it other significant risks.  In addition to eroding the liberty of all individuals in these communities, the high-crime neighborhood designation “raised special concerns of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic profiling.”  The Terry [v. Ohio] decision  itself recognized these dangers, requiring individualized suspicion in part “because according the police unfettered discretion to stop and frisk could lead to harassment of minority groups and ‘severely exacerbat[e] … police-community relations.”  Moreover, because neighborhoods descried as “high-crime” are almost always poor communities of color, excessively-broad police discretion to frisk suspects in such neighborhoods facilitates the disproportionate targeting of poor people of color by law enforcement, contributing to unjustifiable levels of racial and socioeconomic disparities in the criminal justice system.

I have omitted citations and footnotes from these quotes; they are available in the actual order itself, which can be downloaded here.

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