The civil rights of Black men have been under attack for years, with the Trayvon Martin case bringing to America’s attention that, once again, all things are not equal in the “Land of the Free.” The latest in the round of barrages against African-American men, especially those in urban environs, took place in the Supreme Court this morning.
Today, the Supreme Court ruled, via a 5-4 vote, that invasive strip searches in jail are a necessary component in maintaining safety and security in both male and female prisons. Some see this as a direct violation of privacy rights. With the High Court’s vote, it immediately struck down a challenge from Albert Florence, a Black man who argued that the strip search was illegal and unconstitutional. Florence and his legal team fought to no avail, with the court majority stating the difficulty jail officials have of determining how dangerous a criminal may be.
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The irony of Florence’s case was that he wasn’t even in the wrong. In 2005, he and his wife were stopped by a New Jersey state trooper who then arrested Florence for an unpaid fine, although he actually did pay what he owed. Subjected to two strip searches and stints in two county jails over six days, Florence was released with little apology from the New Jersey cops who failed to correctly update his records over a minor issue.
In effect, the high court’s ruling today simply states that even those with minor offenses should be treated like the most heinous criminals in the land.
New York’s “Stop-and-Frisk” policy has unfairly targeted Black and Hispanic residents, with no real protocol announced or followed. Last year alone, the NYPD stopped and questioned almost 700,000 persons, 87 percent of them being either Black or Hispanic. The low level of arrests made by way of this aggressive program is another matter deserving of investigation. Further, one of out of ten African-American men are in prison. According to research from the American Leadership Forum, 1 out of 3 Black boys born in 2001 have the potential to spend a lifetime in jail.
Should a person with a few unpaid parking tickets or missed court dates for a rent hearing be subjected to the same cavity search of a known murderer? The sensible answer is that the criminal proven to have the more violent record should be treated as such. The wide-sweeping assumption that every person with a traffic violation or similar minor offense needs to be treated like the town’s biggest drug dealer is a foolish one.
The Supreme Court’s ruling may have a root of good reasoning, but the fact remains that Black people, especially men, are targeted far more than their White counterparts. And while the High Court’s decision claim criminals, such as bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was stopped for a minor traffic issue, supports its reasons for the ruling, it doesn’t take a law degree to know what this decision means for young men of color in the country. We can all expect to see a few more cases like Albert Florence’s before the year is out.