Sandra Bland’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated, and it matters
It would be so very easy to fuel a column about Sandra Bland purely on emotion: What happened to her on July 10 in Waller County, Texas for merely not signaling a lane change was outrageous. What followed was astounding. And her apparent suicide after three days in jail for such a pittance is beyond tragic. But as it pertains to our painfully obvious race issue in this country, fiery emotions don’t solve anything. Cool heads are in order. This week, I decided to turn my keyboard over to my brain rather than my heart, which is furious.
First, I needed to understand how cops tick, so I chatted with my favorite retired police officer. If you don’t try to understand the opposing viewpoint, you end up in your own personal echo chamber, where there’s no chance of seeing things clearly, let alone truly understanding anything or solving a problem.
Cops, you see, aren’t like you and me. They’re a different animal. True, most are fine, noble people and it’s less than one percent of them that commit 98 percent of the outrage. But all cops, to some degree, are predatory. Once they pull us over, their antennae are searching for any reason to arrest us and, idiots that we are, we give it to them.
So, I asked my cop friend, is it illegal to backtalk a cop? No, he said, unless he orders you to be quiet. Keep talking, and you’re disobeying a police officer. Further, such behavior may raise suspicion that you’re under the influence. Now he’s got two reasons to slap on the handcuffs. Shout at him while he’s cuffing you, and you’re “disturbing the peace.” Touch him and you’re “assaulting a police officer.” Struggle because the handcuffs hurt, and you’re “resisting arrest.” If your skin is black, these scenarios increase exponentially. Our laws have become skewed for the benefit of law enforcement, not civilians.
Although the officer’s behavior in the video is shocking, Bland’s behavior in the presence of this class-one a-hole of an officer on a power trip (and yes, my friend confirmed they do exist) led to her arrest. I’m not saying she deserved such horrific abuse. I’m merely pointing out the cause and effect, and how the law allows it.
Here’s the thing: When an officer stops you or confronts you, unless you want to go to jail, keep your mouth shut. If you’re asked a question, answer it in as few words as possible and if it’s self-incriminatory, stay silent. Secondly, do whatever he tells you to do. Any resistance, however minor, opens up a Pandora’s box of laws that will be used against you.
A cop is like a lion: If it’s staring at you, you look like food. Slapping it on the nose is a bad plan. Ditto for fighting it, because it’s stronger than you. Ditto for outrunning it, because it’s faster than you, and if it isn’t, its bullets are. Your objective, whether cops or lions, is to get out of that encounter alive. You can scream a blue streak later.
Had Bland stayed silent and just signed the ticket, she’d probably still be alive today. That said, this was Texas, where “law” is relative, and she encountered an officer surging with adrenaline and ego. Sadly, had Bland faced Officer A-hole in court, chances are she would’ve been found guilty. Judges are loathe to discredit testimony by police officers because time and again, they’re invaluable witnesses in the courtroom. Add to this that some cops lie, even under oath. And yes, that’s perjury, and against the law. And if you don’t believe it happens, oh sweet pea, your naivety is so precious I could pinch its chubby cheek.
Police officers are experts at finding nuances in the law if it means they can snag another ticket or arrest; prey, if you will. They’re all about the law except when they break it themselves, and the most glaring example is the trampling of the Fourth Amendment. Can we all quit jerking off over the Second Amendment for a moment, and consider the foundation on which it stands: the Fourth Amendment — “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Cornell University Law School’s website notes, “Probable cause is a requirement found in the Fourth Amendment that must usually be met before police make an arrest, conduct a search, or receive a warrant. Courts usually find probable cause when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed (for an arrest) or when evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched (for a search),” and that “The Fourth Amendment requires that any arrest be based on probable cause.”
Where was the probable cause in Sandra Bland’s arrest? If not signaling while changing lanes constitutes “probable cause” for arrest, people, we’re one hiccup away from having to “show our papers” on demand. In that disturbing video, Bland declares she’s not under arrest, and the cop shouts back that she is. For what? My friend said officers aren’t required to say why they’re arresting you while it’s happening. That comes later at the jailhouse. However, he noted that “resisting arrest” can’t be the stand-alone reason for an arrest. It can only follow an actual arrest, which, according to the Fourth Amendment, requires probable cause.
While it’s cathartic to shout “Black Lives Matter,” it’s not addressing the core issue, which isn’t skin color. It’s the widespread and wanton violation of the Fourth Amendment, for which law enforcement and the courts are complicit. The Supreme Court has tackled some weighty issues this year. Hey SCOTUS — how about scrutinizing the Fourth Amendment? Better yet — enforcing it!
We the People can’t legislate hate. But we can demand that the Constitution be upheld. “The Fourth Amendment Matters” — for people of all colors.