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A Justified Search and Proper Seizure

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by Jon Miller



I’ve lived near New York City for a great deal of my life and it is almost impossible to not hear of it’s “stop-and-frisk” program or the appalling stories of racial profiling and harassment that have resulted from it.

The “stop-and-frisk” program has been in action for more than a decade, with well over a quarter of a million stops a year. Claiming to help maintain a better and safer city, it still creates a good deal of controversy – and it isn’t hard to see why.

Imagine walking home from school or work and being stopped by a police officer for looking suspicious because you’re wearing a hoodie. The question is: what is the point of this program? Nine out of 10 stops result in the discovery of no illegal activity, so it isn’t bringing the crime rate down either. Those selected for this random search-and-seizure are usually either African-American or Latino.

Since 2002, the imbalance of individuals selected for the program has never been more obvious. Just last year there were almost 14,000 “stop-and-frisks” conducted. More than 80 percent of those stops found no weapons or illegal materials. What is more startling is that more than 50 percent of the individuals chosen were African-Americans. In fact, more than 50 percent of the individuals chosen in the past 10 years were African-American.

Luckily, I have not been selected for a search while in the city, but I have been profiled before, as age also plays a major factor in the “stop-and-frisk” program. Our fourth amendment right has always been a source of controversy.

Originally proposed by Thomas Jefferson in 1792, our search-and-seizure right has gone through revision after revision. This topic has been controversial, to say the least. The main questions being: “what constitutes as suspicious” and “when the person is seized, what constitutes as a search?” The fourth amendment, a part of the bill of rights, prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant.

Turning on the news, one is more than likely to hear about tragic stories the have resulted from the “stop-and-frisk” program than positive stories.

The idea of a police officer stopping me simply because I look a certain way or am acting a way that they deem suspicious, resulting in a search, seems like a violation of my rights.

The process gives the officer the authoritative right to stop anyone they think may be involved in some illegal activity. Once the subject is seized, a proper search has commenced. After finding no signs of illegal activity, the officer must fill out either a paper report or an electronic form that explains the reason for the stop as well as a description of the behavior of the occupant. A receipt is given to the subject and released. There are several options on the paper report such as “Engaging in a Drug Transaction” or “Casing Victim or Location.”

When New York City had announced its “stop-and-frisk” program there was a plethora of social and political outcry. It’s easy to argue that this was racial profiling with legal means. Segregation has always been both a massive and unfortunate element in our nation’s history. With incidents against African-American citizens that occur even to this very day, the opposition was more than warranted.

My basic constitutional rights are very important to me. The idea that I am protected to write about my opinion in this very article is inspiring. It is important to remember the rights that each and every person is entitled to and it is equally important to never be encouraged to resort to physical violence when it feels like a person’s or one’s own rights have been violated, like in so many tragic cases that have occurred over the years.

With the “stop-and-frisk” program constantly being brought before the judicial system to be dismantled, I think I speak for a lot of people by saying I can only hope that there is, at the very least, some sort of mutual ground that respects the rights of everyone.

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