Here’s a horrifying scenario: You’re having a barbecue in your front yard with your family and some friends when a car rolls up. It’s not more guests, it’s plainclothes police officers in an unmarked vehicle.
They jump out, demand to search every single one of your guests, offer no warrant or other justification for the rough treatment and, when they don’t find anything incriminating, drive away like nothing happened.
This nightmare scenario is precisely what happened to Betty Jean Tucker, a grandmother from Canton, Miss., in 2014. And the most appalling part of her story is the barbecue incident wasn’t the only time she’s faced this front-yard harassment from the Madison County Sheriff’s Department. C.J. Ciaramella at Reason reports:
About five years ago, [Tucker] says, her teenage grandson was in her front yard, fixing his brother’s bicycle, when an unmarked truck sped toward him and stopped. Two plainclothes officers jumped out, tackled him to the ground, and searched him. Again finding nothing, the deputies left. Tucker shouted at them, asking what he had done. “Tell your grandson to wear a shirt next time,” they allegedly replied.
What the hell? This is stop-and-frisk on steroids — an tremendous violation of due process and privacy rights compounded by the fact that these police assaults are happening on private property, not a public street.
Tucker’s experience has come to light because she’s part of a class action lawsuit against the county led by the ACLU to stop officials from using these “jump-out squads” on the grounds that they violate the Fourth and 14th amendments. And unfortunately, Tucker’s county is not the only jurisdiction to use such tactics. As Ciaramella notes, similarly aggressive roadblock and stop-and-frisk practices have been documented from Milwaukee to Baltimore and beyond.
Predictably, minorities are disproportionately targeted by the jump-out squads. I say “predictably” because it is objectively safer to live in America without fear of police violence if you are white.
White people are subject to police misconduct, too — think of the recent death of Justine Damond, a white yoga instructor, at the hands of a Minneapolis cop, or the Utah nurse who was manhandled by an officer when she stood up for a patient’s rights. But still, it is no surprise black people in particular feel they are not safe in America, that they must guard their children against police brutality, that their lives are not equally valued by our legal system.
In Tucker’s county, many minorities feel they are living in “a Constitution-free zone where their right to equal protection under the law and against unreasonable searches and seizures is nonexistent,” said Jennifer Riley-Collins of the Mississippi ACLU. “These practices force thousands of people to live in fear and under constant threat of being subject to suspicionless searches and arrests simply because of the color of their skin.”
It should not be controversial to say the cops can’t rough you up in your own front yard for no reason and then leave without consequences. Tucker’s case should be a slam dunk.