The Stop and Search Law: Racial Disparities in Chicago

tim-graf-202490-copy-300x200Few laws have created the angst that is experienced in the stop-and-search era. The basic premise is that if you come from an ethnic minority, then the chances are that you will be more likely to be stripped and searched than a member of the mainstream community, which is primarily white Caucasian in this context. It is a violation of civil liberties. There are numerous reports of these powers being abused.

The law enforcement agencies may hide behind the notion that they are merely engaging in a consensual process, but consensus can never be achieved if one of the parties to the cause is so much more powerful and influential. The power of arrest and charge is particularly compelling to any would-be suspect when he or she is deciding whether or not to resist the arrest. The law enforcement agencies have attempted to report this as a practical matter of people from ethnic minorities committing more crimes more often than their mainstream white Caucasian counterparts. Other social researchers disagree with this premise because it does not account for the impact of the systemic deprivations with which these ethnic minorities have to contend.

Working Towards a Sustainable Model

The issues of community policing mean that it is very difficult to expect the police to raise standards without serious legal oversight. The courts rely on civil liberties cases in order to highlight and deal with the problem. The main obstacle is that the victims are often traumatized by the experience and intimidated by the law enforcement agencies to the extent that they no longer engage in the reporting process. The attorneys who are supposed to represent their clients may also find that the victim is under attack as the police agencies try to come up with a myriad of potential charges in order to silence the victim.

The social and scientific research on these arrests or searches indicates that the racial disparities are not always rooted in fact, even if that was one of the critical considerations during the genesis of the law. The officers may search a member of an ethnic minority just because they can, or, alternatively, they have been socialized to suspect that all ethnic minority community members are potential or actual criminals. The searches are not just physical, but they can also extend to vehicles and other aspects. Interestingly, there has been research indicating that it is the white drivers who are more likely to have contraband in their vehicles. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has been at the forefront of highlighting some of these failures even as the legal fraternity has also had its say in terms of developing frameworks for assisting people who have been the victims of unfair profiling.

A Range of Solutions Proposed

The first is an outright ban, which the law enforcement agencies oppose on the grounds that it would hamper pre-emptive and proactive investigation. The second is a record of all proceedings so that other people can ascertain what happened. Once again, some police officers have objected to this as being too prescriptive, directional, and biased against them.

There are compromise solutions that rely on community-based policing. Here, both parties get to define the boundaries of the exercise and the overall objectives that they have in mind. These in turn determine how the process is carried out. The fact that stop-and-search laws are racially and politically charged means that the reform agenda is not as easy as it should be. There is a distinct feeling that those who are involved in the system or are guilty of misconduct do not want it to be changed radically even with the alternative perspectives on the best way of enforcing the law. For expert help with your stop-and-search case, contact David Freidberg Attorney at Law at 312-567-7100 today.

(image courtesy of Tim Graf)