The 'Seesaw Effect' from Racial Profiling to Depolicing: Toward a Critical Cultural Theory
Frank Rudy Cooper
Suffolk University Law School
THE NEW CIVIL RIGHTS RESEARCH: A CONSTITUTIVE APPROACH, Benjamin Fleury-Steiner & Laura Beth Nielsen, eds., Ashgate, 2006
In the early 1990s the public supported the NYPD's experiment with maximum use of Terry stops and frisks to fight crime. By the end of the 1990s, the public was very critical of the NYPD for using stops and frisks to racial profile. At the 2000 New York Puerto Rican Day Parade rampaging groups of men, most of whom were racial minorities, sexually assaulted at least 57 women. The NYPD initially depoliced the Parade assaults by refusing to intervene. Some of those officers later claimed they had been afraid to assert themselves against racial minority men because of the public's criticism of their racial profiling.
This chapter argues that the NYPD's swing from racial profiling to depolicing is an example of Terry doctrine's seesaw effect. We can imagine an enforcement practices continuum between maximum (racial profiling) and minimum (depolicing) police usage of stops and frisks. That is the plank in Terry's seesaw. We can also imagine a cultural context continuum spanning public favor for or criticism of using Terry stops against racial minorities. As the public places its weight heavily on one or the other end of that continuum, police officers will swing between racial profiling and depolicing.
What we learn from thinking about Terry's seesaw effect in New York is that we cannot understand the practical meaning of a legal doctrine without understanding the cultural context in which it will operate. This chapter proposes enhancing our understanding of seesaw effects by synthesizing Critical Race Theory's analyses of cultural norms about identity and Law and Cultural Studies analyses of the interplay between legal and cultural discourses into a critical cultural theory.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 32
Keywords: Criminal procedure, Giuliani, blacks, african-americans, latinos, law enforcement, reasonableness, Fourth Amendment, search, seizure, stereotyping, race, media
Date posted: July 19, 2007