The History of the United States

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In the early stages of United States history following the events of WW2, the use of stop and search procedures where officers would flood the streets after a reported crime to question individuals in urban, low income, and predominantly black neighborhoods became a staple method for crime fighting. These tactics originated by the LAPD became embraced by other city police chiefs and began to prioritize street stops as a way to conduct surveillance on suspicious individuals. Throughout history patrol officers had always stopped and searched people they felt as being suspicious but this became an official strategy in 1964 when New York State passed the country’s first law under the name “stop and frisk’.

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While stop and frisk is considered as a driving force in police procedure in the United States, it must begin with meeting the minimum legal requirement of reasonable suspicion. A police officer must have some form of probable cause indicating that an individual is committing a crime or likely to commit one in order to proceed with a legal arrest. This isn’t necessarily always the case, Avdi Avdija writes “To make a simple stop, however, police officers are not required to meet the ‘probable cause’ level of justification.

Since Terry v Ohio in 1968, the police need to meet the ‘reasonable suspicion’ standard, which is a lesser justification level than probable cause.” (Avdija, 2013) This not only relates to stops, as only using reasonable suspicion as a means of justification for frisk procedures is also allowed in certain scenarios. Therefore, a patrol officer can conduct an official stop and proceed to a ‘frisk’ based solely on reasonable suspicion. In this case, a cleveland detective doing routine work in his area observed two individuals conducting suspicious activity outside a store front.

The officer using his own instincts followed the suspects and initiated a stop and frisk in which he discovered a concealed weapon on one of the assailants during a pat down. The suspects were charged and the court held the decision stating that no constitutional rights were violated and that the act was lawful because the detective for his own protection had the right to conduct a pat down of exterior clothing assuming the individuals were armed based on their suspicious activity.

This meant that while in normal cases where a warrant is required to do a search and seizure, an officer in specific scenarios that require swift action may use his own judgement and proceed accordingly without one. (Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 1968) As stop and frisk procedures became more intentional and methodical, police presence in minority neighborhoods also began to rise.

One of the main issues of concern in the United States is the issue of mass incarceration. There is a strong correlation between stop and frisk procedures and the massive imprisonment of minorities in America especially that of African Americans. The United States has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prison population in which half are locked up for nonviolent crimes. (NAACP) A 2018 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics states that nearly 2.2 million adults were held in American prisons at the end of 2016.

This is a staggering statistic that shows a strong focus must be placed on asking why this is perceived as normal procedure. Mass incarceration comes at a heavy cost, for comparison the United States spends nearly 80 billion on correction facilities as opposed to 68 billion for the Department of Education. A reduction in prison facilities and overall costs of imprisoning fugitives would provide substantial amounts of left over money to be spread in other areas of importance impacting the daily lives of Americans. The United States war on drugs has been a key identifier as to why such large numbers of prisoners exist as most are sentenced with drug related charges as small as possession of marijuana.

Many people believe that criminalizing marijuana isn’t justifiable through moral code because a real crime should have a victim and criminal determined through due process. Even though recreational use of marijuana has been legalized in a few states it is still illegal federally and has been used an instrument for police forces to target individuals in urban neighborhoods to charge with petty crimes. Harry Levine brings forth a very concerning issue in his article in which he states that “Over the last fifteen years, police departments in the United States made 10 million arrests for marijuana possession—an average of almost 700,000 arrests a year.

Police arrest blacks for marijuana possession at higher rates than whites in every state and nearly every city and county.” Levine goes on to explain that most of these arrests are committed in low income neighborhoods mainly populated by people of color in which police illegally stop and search young men with no real probable cause solely hoping they find something on them. The monetary bail system in the United States can also be cited as being flawed because officers understand that individuals from these areas are less likely to be able to afford bail and therefore have greater odds of being forced to remain in jail.

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow talks about how mainly African Americans are targeted for humiliating marijuana arrests and extremely harsh sentences on par with much more dangerous drugs such as crystal meth, heroin and cocaine. Alexander states “a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery.

The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.” History has shown that the war on drugs is flawed and extreme, as Alexander points out certain scenarios where drug dealers are handed out more time than mass murderers. Even in today’s society there are a plethora of examples showcasing the bias given to individuals of color as opposed to sentences being given to that of caucasian men.

The so called “War On Drugs” originally initiated by President Bush in an attempt to prevent the huge infiltration of illegal drugs in the United States has over time cost our nation billions and as noted by Alexander, is placing felons, presumably African American in a racial caste system in which they are stuck and can not move up because of the severe consequences that come along with being labeled a felon such as the inability to receive any type of government aid or land a decent job.

Even one arrest for a minor charge can significantly impact the life of an individual in continuing to become a solid contributor in society. Small drug arrests from stop and frisk procedures have been used as a major tool for mass incarceration. The message being sent out is very contradictory because the government is essentially saying that they are outlawing drugs because it can ruin the lives of people but if they catch them with drugs they’re going to send them to jail and ruin their lives anyway.

Michelle Alexander relates these issues to the days of Jim Crow, stating that mass incarceration differs in the sense that African Americans nowadays tend to be in support of the current system by placing blind faith in government procedure based on the notion they believe they are being treated on an equal basis. This is largely due to the common perception of people that any individual who is arrested chose to commit a crime and therefore deserves the consequences that follow.

Alexander makes the argument that looking at these issues from a larger scale will show that ultimately we can all be labeled as criminals, nobody is perfect when it comes to following the law but the current system in place is designed to take advantage of the fact that we are all prone to breaking the law, regardless of severity, at one point or another in our lifetime. She states that “An illusion of culpability is created, it isn’t that the urban poor are more likely to make mistakes, it’s that they are more likely to be targeted by the system of control.” (Alexander) While legislation and the judicial process deserve part of the blame in their role of systematic control, she believes that it ultimately stems from police agency agendas focusing on minorities that are easier to be prosecuted and will help bolster their own numbers.

Basic court hearings focused on officer involved stops and arrests can become stressful when attempting to explain the facts of the situation. Ron Bacigal states that “the suspect often feels threatened and harassed. The police officer often suspects that a crime is about to occur, and if a frisk takes place it is because the suspect is believed to be armed and dangerous to the officer, the public, or both.” (Bacigal) At the end of the day, police officers are human like the rest of us and react to life threatening and fearful situations by ultimately trusting their own instincts.

In many instances when asked to give reasons for their reasonable suspicion of following stop and frisk procedure they will tend to base their actions on their own judgement stating they felt it was appropriate based on the situation at hand. A common concern for the average citizen would be the belief that this is essentially giving police officers to much power. A key question to ask would be what’s preventing officers from creating any random suspicion in order to justify their approaching of random individuals. Ron Bacigal states that officers are aware they are responsible to provide a more in depth analysis of the situation to the judge and tend to fall back on familiar language that the courts have accepted in prior cases.

In attempts to avoid racial profiling officers will cite known statistics that will prove them of their innocence of racial bias. For example, an officer may cite that the location was in a known high crime area, or that the suspect made suspicious gestures with others in what’s to be known as an open drug market. Ultimately, Bacigal is trying to show us that officers have experience in the courts and know the type of language they need to use in order to please the judge in accepting a lawful stop and frisk. They know the rules of the game and know how to take advantage of it. Police officers are now required to have body cameras on at all times in an attempt to fix this issue. That alone shows that their have been many examples of officers falsifying reports or scenarios in order to save themselves from proper judgement.

This is an issue that is still taking course in today’s day and age. The New York Times had published an article stating that “pressure is increasing on the New York City Police Department to reform its stop-and-frisk program under which New Yorkers, nearly all innocent of any crime, were stopped by the police close to 700,000 times last year.” (NY Times) The department responded by stating that it will be conducting reviews on the legality of all stop and frisk actions which by law require the need of reasonable suspicion.

While this seems like a good step it is ultimately meaningless unless a third party investigator with no bias gets involved in the matter as internal reviews will hardly ever lead to admittance of corruption. A study done by the N.Y.C.L.U found that African American and Hispanic men were targeted by such procedures in extremely alarming numbers. The data showed that they reflect for only 4.7% of the city’s population, but accounted for 41.6% of stops last year. As stated by Bacigal earlier and largely proving his point, officers cited extremely vague specific language such as suspects displayed “furtive movements” as a reason for almost 50% of these stops.

Stop and frisk policy has been a debate between city officials and civil liberty advocates for quite some time now. Civil rights activists have argued that such measures violate the civil rights of those being targeted and that the current system isn’t targeting criminal behavior but largely focusing on targeting racial minorities. Certainly, based on the given data it seems like a reasonable argument to be made but city officials have continued to state that it is a cornerstone in maintaining law and order. The NYPD has kept an electronic database of all individuals who have been stopped by this policy.

City officials have argued that such a database was necessary because detectives relied on it for investigations and to arrest suspects. (Harris, 2017) In order to prove its effectiveness, city officials provided a file containing hundreds of names from the database that had ultimately ended in arrest. This was looked upon as a key piece of evidence to support the strategy in place. Further analysis of the file by the Paterson Administration refuted the claims given by the city. They found no direct link between names from the database and claims made by the NYPD.

It later became evident that in almost every case where an arrest was made, the suspect already had an existing criminal record. With the gathering of new evidence, the argument given by the NYPD was officially put to rest. New legislation followed making it illegal to electronically store any identifying information of individuals who were stopped but not arrested. Further analysis of race and specific areas of stops discovered massive racial disparities showing the specific targeting of minorities especially those of African American or Hispanic descent. The data provided by Harris and this database ultimately suggested that majority of stops done by the NYPD were based on racial identity not acts of breaking the law.

Throughout the course of American history we have gathered overwhelming amounts of evidence that has shown us that such contradictory and racially motivated police practices have been going on for a while. Racial profiling in police procedures are an issue we must confront with full force in order to achieve meaningful change. All the authors cited have provided credible evidence or data that showcases faults in our police system.

Large quantities of Americans have fell into a mirage that makes them believe that the current justice system acts in the best interest of the people, when in reality it’s filled with cracks and loopholes that have been fully taken advantage of by law enforcement to ultimately oppress minorities. People who are not directly affected by these faults choose to ignore these recurring issues or understand the failures, but believe they dont have the power to change it. We the people must act in unity to vote people in power who will represent our best interests and push for policy change that will respect the individual rights of all people regardless of race, gender, or other identifying differences.

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The History of the United States. (2019, Jan 03). Retrieved from