| David Rudovsky, The Impact of
the War on Drugs on Procedural Fairness and Racial Equality,
1994 U. Chi. Legal F. 237.
The author compares the "War on Drugs" with other
previous wars in the United States, which also violated
individuals' constitutional rights in the name of compelling war
interests. For instance, World War II was a time of
unconstitutional actions against Japanese Americans in the name
of security during the war. Looking back, America realized what a
tragedy it was to intern Japanese Americans and ruin their lives
because of the scare of spies. However, it did not keep the
government from imprisoning Japanese Americans unjustly, based on
their race. The same can be said for ignoring blatent
constitutional violations currently with African Americans and
other minorities during this "War on Drugs."
Michael A. Fletcher, Driven to
Extremes, Wash. Post, Mar. 29, 1996 , at A1.
The city of Reynoldsburg, Ohio settled with a man who sued the
city after he claimed a group of white police officers calling
themselves the "Special Nigger Arrest Team" targeted
him for arrest because he was an African-American. Successful
lawsuits come by way of settlements, which often involve some
court ordered change to policing management and enforcement. When
a case comes before court, it is usually difficult to win because
the person in court in normally guilty of some charge, and his
defense is a constitutional violation. The court is less likely
to let a guilty person go because of a constitutional violation.
So settlements normally indicate a knowledgeable plaintiff with a
good case against the police.
Charles L. Becton, The Drug Courier Profile: "All
Seems Infected That Th' Infected Spy, as All Looks Yellow to the
Jaudic'd Eye," 65 N.C. L. Rev. 417, 427 (1987).
A prime example of masking racial generalities and stereotypes
behind a legitimate investigative tool is the "drug courier
profile" used to articulate a police officer's reasonable
suspicion during traffic stops. The drug courier profile was
developed by the Drug Enforcement Agency, ("DEA"), as a
tool to identify and stop drug couriers transporting narcotics.
Courts appear to accept drug courier profiles when determining
reasonable suspicion based on the totality of the circumstances;
the courts will look at all the characteristics that the police
officers, based on their observations and experience, deemed as
"suspicious." When courts sanction the use of drug
courier profiles, they permit any otherwise "innocent"
trait to be considered suspicious if it fits within police
officers' profiles included in the totality of circumstances.
Therefore, police officers are able to easily mask their racial
motivations for the search behind other equally-innocent profile
Joseph P. D'Ambrosio, The Drug Courier Profile and Airport
Stops: Reasonable Intrusions or Suspicionless Seizures?, 12
Nova L. Rev. 273, 296 (1987).
Race is sometimes held to be a legitimate drug courier profile
characteristic used to support an officer's reasonable suspicion
for a pretextual traffic stop and subsequent search. For
instance, police officers in Eagle County, Colorado admitted that
"being Black or Hispanic was and is a factor in their drug
courier profile on which they decide who to stop and
search." Also, a court has held a stop to be
"reasonable" when a DEA agent admitted he was initially
interested in stopping the men because they were black men from
New York. Even more alarming, a group of police officers in
Reynoldsburg, Ohio called themselves the "Special Nigger
Arrest Team" and admitted to targeting African-Americans for
traffic stops and arrests.
J. Michael Kennedy, Sheriff
Rescinds Order to Stop Blacks in White Areas, L.A. Times,
Dec. 4, 1986, at 18.
A Sheriff commented, "if you live in a predominantly
white area and two blacks are in a car behind you, there's a
pretty good chance they're up to no good." However after
making this statement, the next day he apologized to those who
found his comments offensive and stated that deputies would only
stop people for probable cause. Police officers may openly
discuss targeting African- Americans and other minorities for
traffic stops. Only when police officers learn theat their
actions and comments may be constitutional violations do they
rescind their comments and support their stops with legitimate
probable cause reasons.
Jeff Brazil & Steve Berry, Color
of Driver Is Key to Stops in I-95 Videos, Orlando Sentinel,
Aug. 23, 1992, at A1.
An example of video cameras revealing police abuse is the
lawsuit filed by African-American and Hispanic travelers along
interstate I-95 in Volusia County, Florida. The videotapes
revealed that nearly seventy percent of motorists stopped were
African-American or Hispanic, which is clearly disproportionate
to the total number of minority drivers that travel this highway.
Of the cars stopped, over eighty percent of those searched
belonged to blacks or Hispanics. The average time spent to
investigate minority drivers was nearly 12.1 minutes, while only
5.1 minutes were spent investigation Caucasian drivers. While the
police officers claimed their stops were for legitimate traffic
violations, only nine of the 1.084 detained motorists received
The Volusia County Police department would not initially
release the videotapes, denying they even existed. Police are not
required to keep record of initial stops, while every other step
of an arrest or detainment process is recorded. Here, there were
videotapes that showed these stops, and the scenes shown were
terribly race-motivated traffic stops. More alarming were the
comments and actions made by the police officers themselves. For
instance, a white driver was stopped and was asked by the officer
how he was doing; when the driver replied, "not very
good," the officer said, "could be worse-could be
Sheri L. Johnson, Race and the
Decision to Detain a Suspect, 93 Yale L.J. 214, 240
Constitutional violations can be extremely difficult to prove
in court. Not only are police departments not required to keep
records of who and why they stop automobiles, but they also are
able to, in hindsight, support their stops with legitimate
reasons rather than racial prejudices. Should the DEA reveal its
arrest statistics, courts would not know whether those statistics
reflected racially selective investigation by the DEA or the
asserted disproportionate racial involvement. Who knows how many
traffic stops it takes to get the statistics to support a
"successful" fight on the "War on Drugs."
Since there is no record, the illustrations through the
videotapes and settlement hearings show a scary scene: thousands
of racially motivated traffic stops to find those numbers that
would support a finding of success on the "War on
Wilkins v. Maryland State Police, Complaint
filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland (as
discussed in several law review articles as an illustration of a
successful settlement action after a tragic racially-based
A clear example of an innocent victim who took the right steps
toward a successful claim against a police department is Mr.
Robert Wilkins. While returning to Washington, D.C. from a
funeral in Chicago, Robert Wilkins was stopped by a Maryland
State Police officer. After citing Mr. Wilkins' cousin, Scott El-Amin,
for allegedly driving sixty miles an hour in a forty mile an hour
zone, the officer attempted to gain consent to search the vehicle
and the passengers refused. The police officer claimed there had
been problems with "rental cars coming up and down the
highway with drugs," but the family still refused to a
search. The officer then made the family wait for a narcotics dog
and made the family wait in the rain while the dog sniffed the
car and found nothing.
Mr. Wilkins is a graduate of Harvard Law School and a staff
attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of
Columbia, and unlike most citizens, was not simply relieved just
to be out of the officer's wrath. While he attempted to inform
the officer that he could not detain them unless there was a
reasonable, articulable suspicion that there were drugs in the
car, the officer nevertheless continued to keep the family. Mr.
Wilkins filed a lawsuit, and the Maryland State Police settled
with Mr. Wilkins, and as part of the settlement, the department
agreed to stop using race-based drug courier profiles as a law
enforcement tool. The settlement also mandated that the police
officers be required to keep a record of the automobiles stopped,
the time, location, search, driver's race, the make of the car,
and other such relevant facts. Mr. Wilkins was very knowledgeable
about the law and his rights. Unfortunately, the common citizen
is not this sure of himself, nor is powerful enough or
knowledgeable enough to be this effective, even though most
citizens are as equally affected in such a way.
Michael A. Fletcher, Driven to Extremes: Black Men Take
Steps to Avoid Police Stops, Wash.
Post, Mar. 29, 1996, at A1.
Unfortunately, because many African-Americans feel they have
been repeatedly harassed by the police, they do not know when
their rights have been legitmately or unlawfully violated. This
article discusses police tactics against minority citizens, and
the few number of successful suits against police officers.
Minorities have so often felt cheated by the mostly white
judicial system, that they are less likely to go through the
court system to remedy the injustices against them. The article
illustrates several instances of minority drivers' actions to
change their driving "styles" rather than fight police
in court. For instance, many minority male drivers will not drive
fancy, expensive cars, even when they can afford them, because
the number of times they are stopped in fancy cars is not worth
the trouble. They also will try to drive in certain clothes, to
look less "thuggish."
Barbara C. Salken, The General
Warrant of the Twentieth Century? A Fourth Amendment Solution to
Unchecked Discretion to Arrest for Traffic Offenses, 62 Temp.
L. Rev. 221, 223 (1989).
This article discusses the near impossibility of not having
violated a traffic offense at one time or another, as traffic is
so heavily regulated. Therefore, police officers can not only use
hindsight to "pick" a traffic violation to use as
reason to support their stopping a black motorist, but they can
almost likely find something wrong with the car at the moment of
the stop. Therefore, police officers can easily mask their
racially-motivated traffic stop with a legitimate reason, and the
courts support them one-hundred percent. Some traffic offenses
for which a police officer may issue a citation include: a string
hanging from a rearview mirror; following too closely behind the
car in front of you; going one or two miles an hour over the
speed limit; headlights being too bright; and failing to signal.