People have claimed to be the victims of racial profiling while walking on the street, shopping or strolling through department stores and malls, seeking entry into buildings, traveling through airports, or passing through immigration checkpoints. In all of these situations, African Americans are subjected to police harassment and denied the freedom of movement to which other citizens are entitled.
Perhaps the most egregious intrusion into the rights of African Americans occurs during so-called 'drug sweeps. Police conduct street sweeps in order to subject those caught in the dragnet to questioning and searches in the absence of probable cause or reasonable suspicion. One such drug sweep, which occurred in New York City, was described in the following account:.
Police sealed off the block and detained virtually all of the people who were present there for up to two hours, during which time the police taped numbers on the chests of those arrested, took their pictures and had them viewed by undercover officers. By the end of the operation, police made only 24 felony and two misdemeanor arrests.
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African Americans have long had to suffer police harassment and disregard for their rights. However, the drug war made the types of police harassment described above more likely to occur. One of the key consequences of the War on Drugs is that courts have relaxed their oversight of the police.
In a series of decisions written since the declaration of war on drugs, the Supreme Court has made it easier for the police to establish grounds to stop and detain motorists and pedestrians on the street. In particular, two recent decisions have made it virtually impossible for African Americans to move freely on the streets without police intervention and harassment.
In Whren v.
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United States, the Supreme Court held that an officer's subjective motivations for a stop were irrelevant to Fourth Amendment analysis, and that the legitimacy of the stop should solely be determined by an objective analysis of the totality of the circumstances. Under Whren, so long as an officer can offer an 'objective' reason for a detention or arrest, it does not matter whether the officer's 'real' reason for the stop was racist.
In Illinois v.
Wardlow, the Supreme Court ruled that the flight of a middle-aged Black man from a caravan of Chicago police officers provided reasonable suspicion for his detention and search. In the majority's view, African Americans have no legitimate reason to flee the police. Thus, the Court, in essence, established a per se rule that flight equals reasonable suspicion.
As Professor Ronner has remarked, this perspective takes 'an apartheid approach to the Fourth Amendment and actively condones police harassment of minorities. The War on Drugs has led to the militarization of police departments across the nation. More specifically, it has led to the increased deployment of military-style tactics for crime control in African American communities, with a correspondently greater potential for death and destruction of property. As these new tactics have become commonplace, the role of police has changed, altering the character of many police departments from law enforcement agencies to military occupation forces.
The militarization of local police forces can be traced to the proliferation of paramilitary police units, often referred to as Special Weapons and Tactics SWAT teams. Originally, paramilitary police units were intended for use in special circumstances, such as hostage situations and terrorist attacks.
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In the s and 70s, there were few SWAT units; those that existed were typically found in large metropolitan areas. However, the policies and practices of the drug war encouraged the use of SWAT teams to expand rapidly into small and medium sized cities throughout the country.
As a consequence, 'most SWAT teams have been created in the s and s. Surprisingly, the survey also disclosed that seventy percent of the police departments in cities under 50, had paramilitary units, as well. SWAT units have provided a conduit for the transfer of military techniques and materials into the hands of ordinary police departments. As a result of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Justice Department and the Department of Defense, civilian police departments have access to 'an array of high-tech military items previously reserved for use during wartime.
Other sophisticated equipment provided to police departments includes the following: 'automatic weapons with laser sights and sound suppressors, surveillance equipment such as Laser Bugs that can detect sounds within a building by bouncing a laser beam off a window, pinhole cameras, flash and noise grenades, rubber bullets, bullet-proof apparel, battering rams, and more.
Although originally intended for extreme and dangerous situations that were beyond the response capability of regular police patrols, the ubiquity of SWAT teams means that police departments often use their paramilitary units for routine law enforcement activities.
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The main use of a SWAT team in departments throughout the country appears to be to support the drug war. According to Kraska and Kappeler, the respondents to their survey 'reported that the majority of call-outs were to conduct what the police call ' high risk warrant work,' mostly 'drug raids. Particularly in so-called 'high crime areas,' police departments are likely to use SWAT teams as proactive units to seek out criminal activity, as opposed to using them solely to respond to a crisis situation.
Kraska and Kappeler found departments that used paramilitary police units as a proactive patrol in high crime areas. According to some of the SWAT team commanders that Kraska and Kappeler interviewed, '[T]his type of proactive policing-instigated not by an existing high risk situation but one generated by the police themselves-is highly dangerous for both PPU [police paramilitary unit] members and citizens. Warrant work conducted by SWAT teams 'consists almost exclusively of what police call 'no-knock entries. Officers may startle residents who may seek to defend their homes. Officers may inadvertently harm residents or innocent bystanders by the use of force necessary to effect the sudden entry of targeted buildings.
Breaking into buildings through surprise and stealth seems like a tactic better suited to an occupying army, then to civilian peace officers. However, the drug war has worn down the traditional resistance to the no-knock warrant. Since the onset of the drug war, courts have been willing to legalize no-knock warrants and issue them to the police. Thus, African American communities are now subject to this potentially dangerous and intimidating police technique. The extension of paramilitary police units into everyday policing not only escalates the degree of force and violence that may be interposed between citizens and the state, it also escalates the likelihood that more forceful methods will actually be used.
In the context of a war on drugs, the identification of drug users and dealers as an enemy upon whom force may be used, is not surprising.
The Drug War as Race War
The very use of the metaphor of 'war,' as a conceptual matter, implies the use of force. As Kraska and Kappeler state:. Thus, the growing collaboration between the police and the military can be expected to have ideological consequences, as well as technological ones. As police paramilitary units train with military organizations, they may be encouraged to develop what amounts to a 'warrior mentality.
The inoculation of a 'warrior mentality' in police officers, however, is inappropriate because police and military have different social functions:. The job of a police officer is to keep the peace, but not by just any means. Police officers are expected to apprehend suspected law-breakers while adhering to constitutional procedures. They are expected to use minimum force and to deliver suspects to a court of law.
The soldier on the other hand, is an instrument of war. In boot camp, recruits are trained to inflict maximum damage on enemy personnel. Confusing the police function with the military function can have dangerous consequences.
As Albuquerque police chief Jerry Glavin has noted, 'If [cops] have a mind-set that the goal is to take out a citizen, it will happen. The danger that SWAT teams pose to inner-city communities has been exposed by several incidents in which citizens have been unnecessarily harmed as a result of paramilitary police activity.
The man was shot fifteen times before he or his wife could determine who was breaking into their house and why.
Professor Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska was hired by the City of Albuquerque to evaluate police department policies and procedures. They had an organizational culture that led them to escalate situations upward rather than de-escalating. As a consequence of the War on Drugs, the use of military-style weapons and tactics by police departments throughout the nation has become routine.
Police departments are locked in a race to see who can arm themselves with the most powerful weaponry available for civilian use. Yet, the easy manner in which military technology can be obtained, and the militaristic attitudes that police officers using this technology also acquire, pose potential dangers to citizens who are unfortunate enough to encounter paramilitary police units, especially those African Americans who live in the areas where these units regularly patrol.
Tonry charged that the racial disparities in the criminal justice system were not merely happenstance, but the result of a 'calculated effort foreordained to increase [the] percentages [of Blacks in prison]. More critically, Tonry charged that the drug war's planners were aware that the ineffective policies they proposed to implement would adversely affect African American males. The War on Drugs was unnecessary, according to Tonry, because drug use was already declining in the United States, and had been doing so for several years.
If less and less Americans were using drugs, then a costly war to reduce drug usage would not seem to make sense. More importantly, Tonry charged, even if the drug war was necessary to address a burgeoning problem with illegal drugs in the United States, the policies the drug warriors selected to deal with that problem were not likely to work. Tonry argues that changes in drug usage are best effected through a combination of supply reduction and demand reduction strategies. The anti-drug policies of the Reagan and Bush administrations were skewed too far in favor of supply reduction approaches to be effective.
The drug policy strategists who planned the drug war, Tonry asserts, knew this. Tonry's most explosive charges addressed the racial imbalance in drug war motivated arrests, prosecutions, and convictions. According to Tonry, 'The War on Drugs foreseeably and unnecessarily blighted the lives of hundreds of thousands of young disadvantaged [B]lack Americans.
In Tonry's words:. They knew that drug abuse was falling among the vast majority of the population. They knew that drug use was not declining among disadvantaged members of the urban underclass.
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They knew that the War on Drugs would be fought mainly in the minority areas of American cities and that those arrested and imprisoned would disproportionately be young blacks and Hispanics. Thus, the adverse impact of the drug war could not be accidental.
The architects of the drug war had to know who would be most affected by their policies. They had to understand what Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out in when he said '[B]y choosing prohibition [of drugs] we are choosing to have an intense crime problem concentrated among minorities. At worst, Tonry says, it was 'the product of malign neglect'-a consequence that was malicious and evil.
If the architects of the drug war knew their plans would have devastating impact on the African American community, then they apparently did not care. What could provide the motive for such an assault on African Americans? According to Tonry, the motive was two-fold. First, Tonry claims that to the extent the Reagan and Bush administrations attempted to craft an actual drug policy, they intended to use the criminalization of behaviors disproportionately found in the African American and Hispanic community to shape and encourage anti-drug values and beliefs in the white community.