The Subject of a Carceral State

SoniaFrom the conclusion of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in Utah, Petitioner v. Edward Joseph Strieff, Jr. (June 20, 2016):

This case involves a suspicionless stop, one in which the officer initiated this chain of events without justification.  As the Justice Department notes, supra, at 8, many innocent people are subjected to the humiliations of these unconstitutional searches.  The white defendant in this case shows that anyone’s dignity can be violated in this manner.  But it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny.  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.

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.

I dissent.

One thought on “The Subject of a Carceral State

  1. Pingback: Carceral Awareness and Trauma Informed. | museum42

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