There arent many truly universal rules of human nature, but I think this is one of them: If you give a group of people power, a certain percentage of them will abuse it. Its true of professors, petty bureaucrats, judges, and nannies. Shocking new evidence suggests that its also true of young men with guns.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics today issued a study of traffic stops called Contacts between Police and the Public, 2005. According to the press release, the study found, contrary to the experience of many who think theyve been pulled over for Driving While Black,
that whites, blacks and Hispanics were stopped at similar rates. Male drivers were pulled over at higher rates than female drivers, and younger drivers were more likely than older drivers to be stopped.
Its what happened next that separated the races and ethnic groups:
In both 2002 and 2005 police searched about 5 percent of stopped drivers. Male drivers were more likely than female drivers to be searched by police. In 2005 police searched 9.5 percent of stopped blacks and 8.8 percent of stopped Hispanics, compared to 3.6 percent of white motorists. Drivers younger than 30 (8.4 percent) had a greater likelihood of being searched than drivers 30 or older (2.7 percent).
Thats from the press release, which adds that the study "did not take into account other factors that might explain these disparities." In the case of Hispanic drivers, other factors might include, say, being one of two young Colombian males in a rental car. But its difficult to see any similarly obvious reason for the disparity involving Black drivers. Except, of course. You know.
(Heres Orrin Kerr commenting on the study at the Volkh Conspiracy, and heres a CNN report. Im sure there will be many other reports tomorrow.)
About 11% of searches uncovered evidence of criminal wrongdoing, but the study doesnt say whether the figure is constant across groups. If it is, wouldnt that suggest that police were acting in a racially-neutral manner? But its a good deal likelier, of course, that Black motorists are discriminated against.
Now, heres my Plan™ for ending this discrimination. So long as the cops are simply harassing the motorist, and the search is just an exercise in roadside humiliation that produces no evidence, it shouldnt concern us. But if the search actually uncovers evidence of criminal wrongdoing, proving objectively that it was justified at least in one narrow sense, then we need to subject it to closer scrutiny.
Under my Plan™, American courts would adopt a decision-making matrix in the form of an ever-expanding flow-chart with approximately 4,000 boxes. (Thats one for every page of Professor La Faves masterpiece of scholasticism, his 6-volume commentary on the fourth amendment.) Then we can exchange congratulations for acting so decisively to achieve something so accomplished. A certain degree of institutionalized smugness will, I think, be permissible at that point.
Law enforcement agencies and judicial systems must refrain from adopting the Plan™ prior to the execution of a mutually-satisfactory royalty agreement. Remember, piracy is theft!
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