From Stopping Black People to Killing Black People: The Fourth Amendment Pathways to Police Violence

From Stopping Black People to Killing Black People: The Fourth Amendment Pathways to Police Violence



The years 2014 to 2016 likely will go down as a significant if not watershed period in the history of U.S. race relations. Police killing of African Americans has engendered further conversations about race and policing. Yet, in most of the discussions about these tragic deaths, little attention has been paid to a significant dimension of the police violence problem: the legalization of racial profiling in Fourth Amendment law. This legalization of racial profiling is not a sideline or peripheral feature of Fourth Amendment law. It is embedded in the analytical structure of the doctrine in ways that enable police officers to force engagements with African Americans with little or no basis. The frequency of these engagements exposes African Americans not only to the violence of ongoing police surveillance, contact, and social control but also to the violence of serious bodily injury and death. Which is to say, Fourth Amendment law facilitates the space between stopping black people and killing black people. This Article demonstrates precisely how by employing a series of hypotheticals to reveal the ways in which the extraordinary violence police officers often use against African Americans can grow out of the ordinary police interactions Fourth Amendment law empowers police officers to stage.

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