One by one, [Justice Sotomayor] ran through instances of a Supreme Court all too willing to grant police more power to detain, arrest and search citizens — based on pretextual reasons, the way they look, or even suspicion that they had broken a law that doesn’t exist. She underscored that all bets are off once a person is caught in this system.“
Even if you are innocent, you will now join the 65 million Americans with an arrest record and experience the ‘civil death’ of discrimination by employers, landlords, and whoever else conducts a background check,” Sotomayor wrote.
Strife (the person appealing to SCOTUS) may have been white, “but it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny,” she continued, pointing to The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander’s seminal book exploring the culture of the mass incarceration of black people in the U.S.
She also referenced the writings of W.E.B. Dubois, James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates — three black intellectuals from three different eras — to show how people of color have it harder than others, and how things don’t seem to change.“
For generations, black and brown parents have given their children ‘the talk’ — instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger— all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them,” Sotomayor wrote.
She concluded with language that is best when quoted in full — in which she comes ever so close to declaring that black and brown lives indeed do matter:
By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.
We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.