Judges turn 4th Amendment into a license to kill

The conservative bent of the U.S. Supreme Court and rulings by lower federal courts have granted the nation’s police departments a license to kill.

While the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution was drafted to protect citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures, federal courts have twisted the original intent and transformed the law into something truly ominous.

That’s the subject of this interview by Jaisal Noor of The Real News Network with Matthew Segal, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

From The Real News Network:

How the Gutting of the 4th Amendment Enables Police Killings

From the transcript:

NOOR: So talk about what you mean, that every moment the 4th Amendment law remains unchanged it risks people’s lives. It’s costing people’s lives. Talk about that.

SEGAL: Well, what we’ve seen in this country over the last few years is a recognition that police practices have not been adequate to the task of protecting civilians from violence. Sometimes violence from police officers themselves. And what has been talked about less are the Supreme Court cases behind the actions of police officers that pave the way for this violence.And what I was trying to focus on in the piece is the need for the case law to change in order to better protect people.

There needs to be much more protection for civilians who are confronted by police officers. And although the police departments can provide that protection, so can courts.

NOOR: That is a key issue, because, you know–and this has been even sort of put on steroids with the war on drugs–so many negative interactions where people are stopped, or searched, or arrested with, you know, very little cause. And the courts–as you argue, they give the officer sort of an unreasonable benefit of the doubt.

I wanted to start off by talking about Whren v. United States. You say that’s, you know, one of the, one of the key pieces of law here, of case law here. It allows officers to use any violations, like a broken tail light, like that’s what Philando Castile was stopped dozens of times for as a pretext, to stop people they deem suspicious. Is that reasonable?

SEGAL: Right. Well, I mean, that’s really one of the key points about policing in America. Some of the actions that people are protesting again, that people think are outrageous when police officers do that, are actions that courts have actually held to be reasonable. The primary protection that the Constitution is supposed to provide people against unreasonable searches and seizures, unreasonable uses of force, is the 4th Amendment, which creates this reasonableness rule. So that’s supposed to keep you from, your body, from being seized by the police unreasonably. It’s supposed to keep the police from using violence against your body unreasonably.

And what the courts have said time and again is they don’t think much violates that rule, that reasonableness rule. And so when you have a situation like a black man being pulled over for a broken tail light, or being grabbed selling loose cigarettes, that police conduct strikes people as outrageous, and yet courts have said it’s reasonable. And that’s really what needs to change. We need courts to reassess what they’ve been saying is reasonable, because those assessments are really blueprints for police departments. And sometimes when horrible things happen, when acts of violence happen, it is the police following the blueprints that courts have given to them.


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