The Politics of Law: A Progressive Critique

By David Kairys | Go to book overview

DAVID RUDOVSKY


19
POLICE PRACTICES

IN the 1960-61 term of the United States Supreme Court, the justices issued two landmark opinions that signaled a significant change in direction on remedies for police misconduct and on search and seizure practices. Monroe v. Pape presented quintessential allegations of police abuse: several heavily armed police officers broke into a home without a judicial warrant, ransacked the house and terrorized the occupants, making racial and other derogatory slurs. No contraband was found and no arrests were made. The Supreme Court ruled that these allegations stated a federal cause of action for the violation of Fourth Amendment rights under the post--Civil War Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. In Mapp v. Ohio, the Court ruled that violations of the Fourth Amendment by state or local police require the exclusion of evidence improperly seized from criminal trials.1

While Monroe opened the federal courthouse doors to claims of police abuse and Mapp placed an important sanction on illegal search and seizures, after almost four decades and much constitutional litigation, the abuses continue, in many ways unabated. In the past five years, there have been extreme examples of abuse--the beating of Rodney King, the murder of a civilian complainant in New Orleans, the admissions of Detective Fuhrman of framing African Americans, and most recently, the stationhouse torture in New York City of a Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima. During that same period, official governmental studies and investigations of several major police departments have disclosed patterns of misconduct and corruption--including systematic use of excessive force, theft, and persistent perjury in criminal proceedings.

Establishing and enforcing proper restraints on police power is a difficult problem in any society. In the United States there is both a widespread fear of governmental abuse and a widespread tolerance of repressive measures, the latter reflecting a belief that police excesses are

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