The Norman Transcript

Opinion

August 20, 2013

Frisking the Constitution

NORMAN — If you’re standing in front of a jewelry store window with a hammer in your hand, a police officer legally can walk up to you, detain you briefly and pat you down for weapons — even if you’re waiting for a bus to take you to your job as a carpenter.

Under the guidance provided by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1968 case Ohio v. Terry, that hammer, and its proximity to a jewelry store window, offers the cop “specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts,” create a reasonable suspicion that a crime might be about to take place.

Now, what if you’re standing in front of the jewelry store with your hands in your pockets? Can a cop legally stop and frisk you? In most places, the answer is no.

But in 2004, cops in New York City began operating under somewhat looser restrictions. It could mean making broadly defined “furtive” moves, like crossing a street to avoid a cop or shaking nervously. It sometimes meant having a suspicious bulge in your jacket, even if it was just a sack lunch.

On 4.4 million occasions between 2004 and 2012, New York City cops employed aggressive “stop and frisk” techniques, targeting blacks and Hispanics far more frequently than their numbers in the general population would suggest. You’ve heard of driving while black? In New York, you could get stopped for breathing while black.

Not any more. At least not automatically.

In a decision that has ramifications for policing across the country, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled Monday that the city had acted with “deliberate indifference” to the civil rights of millions of New York citizens. Some of the stops may have been legal “Terry stops” (named after the 1968 Supreme Court decision). Many more were unconstitutional, the judge wrote.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion
  • Improving children’s lives

    Social service organizations that have long-term debt for their headquarters and operating needs often spend much of their fundraising efforts meeting those obligations....

    July 29, 2014

  • Nutritional article should be accurate

    I read with interest the July 13 article “Are low-carb diets really healthy?” by Cassidie Day. Unfortunately, a number of statements in this article were incorrect. The first problematic statement was, “Carbs are an essential nutrient ...

    July 29, 2014

  • Hospital story headline was too sensationalized

    Editor, The Transcript: On July 18, The Transcript ran a front page article with the headline “Lawsuit filed against Norman Regional — Civil suit alleges improper billing practices by NRH and contracted physicians groups.” As a first page ...

    July 29, 2014

  • Congress should close gaps

    Of all of Edward Snowden’s revelations about electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency, the most unsettling was that the government was accumulating vast numbers of records about the telephone calls of American citizens. In ...

    July 27, 2014

  • Border obsession overlooks trade

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry made headlines recently by ordering 1,000 National Guard troops to the border. This bravado comes at a price: $12 million a month. Perry plans to send the bill the federal government. That’s one way to finance your ...

    July 27, 2014

  • Intercession badly needed in this world

    Yesterday was my feast day, or as the Italians call it, my “onomastico.” Since I live in the United States, it went completely unnoticed. If I lived in Italy, however, I would have been showered with cards and phone calls. That’s because ...

    July 27, 2014

  • Help better than commentary

    For the last seven years, I have helped run Hands Helping Paws, an animal welfare and rescue group that fosters Norman’s abandoned animals and advocates for spay and neuter initiatives to reduce our community’s problems with stray and ...

    July 27, 2014

  • Stick to the sports

    Editor, The Transcript: Why must we, especially us nice conservatives, be subjected to political commentary in a sports column? I hear/view Fox News routinely and find their coverage quite acceptable. I also hear/view CNN and MSNBC. I ...

    July 27, 2014

  • Corporation Commission should should evaluate quakes, fracturing

    Editor, The Transcript: Is your house at risk of being damaged in an earthquake because of fracking? Maybe. We’ve seen more earthquakes and tremors in Oklahoma seven months into 2014 than in the two previous years combined. At the same ...

    July 27, 2014

  • Norman can stop fracking before it escalates

    Editor, The Transcript: There are 163 fracked wells within Norman city limits. With growing attention to health and safety concerns, the city is considering changes to the existing oil and gas ordinance....

    July 27, 2014