On Tuesday the Court held in Rodriguez v. U.S. that suspects cannot be detained beyond the scope of a routine traffic stop for the sole purpose of performing a dog sniff. The 6-3 ruling is indeed a big win for the 4th Amendment. But our old friend and former-Flex Associate Director Scott Morgan emailed me a […]
Flex Your Rights has been working for many years now to educate everyone we can about the importance of refusing police searches and otherwise knowing and asserting your constitutional rights when confronted by police. Unfortunately, even if you handle a police encounter perfectly, things can still get pretty ugly. This video discusses how to handle some of the challenges you can run into after asserting your rights:
Steve Silverman and I will be joining the popular political site FireDogLake this evening for a webchat about our latest film 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. Please join us from 8:00-9:30ET for what I’m sure will be a lively discussion. Just click into FireDogLake.com at 8:00 and register here if you’d like to comment or ask questions.
Everyone’s talking about this wild story from New York City, in which two men spent 5 days in jail for a bag of coconut candy. The driver consented to a search of his vehicle and both men were arrested after police discovered what they believed was crack cocaine. An officer told the passenger to “shut up” when he insisted it was candy, and the men had to wait in jail for almost a week before lab tests proved their innocence.
In addition to demonstrating the combined arrogance, incompetence, and contempt for innocent people that so often characterizes drug war policing, the story also provides another glaring example of how consenting to police searches can instantly make a bad situation much worse. Pete Guither explains:
Lesson #1: Never, ever, ever, ever, agree to a search. If you’re guilty, you’re helping them catch you. If you’re innocent, you’re wasting your time, you’re taking a chance since they aren’t required to fix anything they break, you’re leaving yourself open for being charged for something you didn’t know about that fell out of a friend’s pocket, and you’ve got the possibility that a couple of morons will think your coconut candy is crack and throw you in jail for a week.
Whether or not refusal prevents the search is beside the point here (although, yes, refusal often prevents the search). Such cases are less likely to be prosecuted, even after evidence is discovered, due to the fact that police and prosecutors do – believe it or not – sometimes recognize a constitutional violation and decline to proceed simply because they don’t want to bring a messy case into the courtroom. Finally, consider how much more impressive a civil suit would look in this case with an illegal search thrown into the mix along with the already-compelling story of spending days in jail over coconut candy.
We’ll never know how things would have turned out if these guys had refused the search, but there’s no question what happened when they agreed to it.
Frishling, tell him to get a warrant. Crap. Too late.
There’s lots of web chatter about the two travel bloggers who got home visits from Transportation Security Administration agents. Following last week’s attempted underwear bombing, the bloggers had posted a leaked TSA memo with instructions to airlines. The most familiar and ridiculed requirement blocks passengers’ access to bathrooms, blankets, video entertainment, and carry-on bags during the last hour of flight.
So in an attempt to plug their own administrative leak, the new law enforcement agency did what law enforcement agencies do: they sent agents to investigate. While it’s terrifying to imagine TSA agents harassing us at our homes beyond the confines of airport security, this should surprise no one.
Also not surprising is the fact that one of the two bloggers failed to flex his rights in the face of police intimidation and trickery.
Steve Frischling, said he met with two TSA special agents Tuesday night at his Connecticut home for about three hours and again on Wednesday morning when he was forced to hand over his laptop computer.
As promised, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police is nearly complete! I think you’ll agree that it’s the most sophisticated and entertaining film of its kind, and I can’t wait to get DVDs into your hands. Pre-orders will begin shipping in time for the Jan. 25 Feb. 12 late Feb./early Mar. 2010 release date.
In the meantime, enjoy the 10 Rules trailer. And check out our special holiday offers below — including discounts on both 10 Rules DVD pre-orders and our classic offering, BUSTED: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters.
Three Special DVD Discount Offers:
(Please Note: 10 Rules DVD pre-orders will ship by late Feb./early Mar., 2010. BUSTED DVD orders will ship within 48 hours of your order.)
Apparently Taser Inc. is developing a police suit that would videotape an officer’s every moment. Friend of Flex Radley Balko discusses this and how new video technologies are altering the relationship between the police and the policed.
Alas, the looming specter of subway searches has finally descended on our nation’s capital. We’ve long assumed it was just a matter of time, but as time came and went, it seemed the tragic fad of frivolous subway searches would elude us. Unfortunately, we were wrong.
This is just chilling:
INSIDE the locker of a narcotics cop, Philadelphia police officials recently made a shocking discovery: A cartoon of a man, half as an officer in uniform and half as a Klansman with the words: “Blue By Day – White By Night. White Power,” according to police officials.
Schweizer, 33, joined the force in June 1997 and makes $54,794 a year, city payroll records show. He became part of the elite Narcotics Strike Force about six years ago. As an undercover, plainclothes cop who worked day and night shifts, Schweizer was part of a surveillance team that watched drug buys and locked up hundreds of suspected drug dealers. He frequently testified in court as a witness for prosecutors. [Philadelphia Daily News]
Racial disparities abound in the war on drugs, but most analysis of the drug war’s disparate impact focuses on institutional bias. Rarely are we confronted with such a disturbing window into the racist mindset of an individual officer. Such beliefs render one thoroughly unqualified to carry out law-enforcement duties in any capacity and raise serious questions about this officer’s past actions.
More troubling, however, is the possibility that Schweizer is just the tip of the iceberg. Is he a cartoonist? Did he draw the thing himself, or is there a larger organization that produces and markets police-themed racist merchandise to a clientele of closeted white supremacist police officers? I don’t know the answer, but this poster sounds like a logo for something very creepy.
Of course, this is just one anecdotal incident, but when such revelations occur within an institution with such a hideously rich tradition of racial bias, it certainly doesn’t feel like a coincidence. It is an unflattering portrait of our criminal justice system that adherents to such ideology are able to assimilate within it. Indeed, had he merely possessed the wisdom to keep racist cartoons out if his locker, this officer would still be hard at work filling our prisons with young black and Hispanic drug offenders.
A new report from the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) shows that black and Hispanic drivers are significantly more likely to be searched, arrested and subjected to the use of force than whites.
It was initially encouraging to see the DOJ release this year’s report without any shenanigans considering what happened last time:
The Justice Department intervened, insisting that BJS not publicize that nasty part about minority drivers being more likely to be searched, arrested, handcuffed, beaten, maced, or bitten by dogs.
A conflict emerged in the course of which BJS Director Lawrence A. Greenfeld was removed from his post. His attempt to provide the media with an unbiased summary of his agency’s findings was apparently too much for his superiors at the DOJ. Ultimately, no press release was sent out, and the study was unceremoniously posted in the bowels of the BJS website.
Perhaps it’s a sign of progress and lessons learned that DOJ declined to bury this year’s equally shocking findings. After all, covering up racial profiling is one way – however shameful and undignified – of admitting that it exists.
Yet, upon closer inspection, we find that this year’s BJS report omits the single most important piece of information contained in the previous report: hit-rate data showing whether minorities were more likely to be hiding contraband.
Likelihood of search finding criminal evidence
Searches of black drivers or their vehicles were less likely to find criminal evidence (3.3%) than searches of white drivers (14.5%), and somewhat less likely than searches of Hispanic drivers
This revealing fact fundamentally undermines the sole premise from which police agencies and others have sought to defend ongoing racial disparities such as those revealed this week. Consider the following hypothetical (but really quite typical) debate with a racial profiling apologist:
RPA: There’s no such thing as racial profiling. Cops don’t even know the race of the driver until after they’ve made the stop.
Me: Who gets pulled over is only one part of the equation. The data show that minority drivers are more likely to be searched, arrested, and subjected to the use of force after being stopped…
RPA: Well, if that’s true it’s because those people committed more crimes.
Me: Actually, the data show that searches of white people are more likely to produce evidence of a crime.
RPA: Wow, you must have gotten straight A’s at the Al Sharpton Academy of Social Science.
Me: This data comes from the Department of Justice.
RPA: Hang on, I’m getting a call. Oh yeah, gotta take this. Good talk.
DOJ was able to provide a racial breakdown of hit-rates in its previous report (the one it buried) thus the omission of such information from this week’s report is highly conspicuous. And of course, DOJ’s previous attempts to cover up racial profiling data attest to the agency’s lack of candor and credibility on this issue.
The larger question then is why the Department of Justice seeks to downplay racial profiling in the first place. BJS reports primarily reflect the behavior of local law-enforcement agencies, not the feds. The only real embarrassment here for DOJ is its ongoing failure to provide adequate monitoring of police practices at the state level. An activist such as myself may be keenly aware of DOJ’s abdication of this responsibility, but I suspect that most people are not.
In any case, we’d be hard pressed to generate any further controversy surrounding cover-ups at the Department of Justice this season. Instead, let’s do our best to make sure everyone knows how to handle police encounters. No matter how thorough, a traffic stop report from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics won’t save your ass on the New Jersey turnpike anyway.