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Professor Donald Tibbs Calls for Dismantling Stop-and-Frisk Practices in Summer Lecture

Professor Donald Tibbs

July 21, 2016

Professor Donald Tibbs advocated overturning a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that he said gave rise to widespread stop-and-frisk practices by police, during a Faculty Speaker Series lecture on July 20.

In the 1968 Terry v. Ohio ruling, Tibbs said, the Supreme Court upheld a search by a Cleveland police detective who stopped and patted down several men after noticing that they’d walked an identical route five or six times, stopping to peer into the same store window each time.  The pat-down spurred the detective to search their clothing, and the men were charged with carrying concealed guns.  

By permitting such a search, based on “reasonable suspicion” and concluding that the pat-down did not represent a full-blown search, Tibbs said, the court created an opening for racial profiling in many police departments.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin’s 2013 ruling that the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices were unconstitutional may or may not have an impact outside the five boroughs, Tibbs said.

While Scheindlin’s ruling could serve as “a shot across the bow in Terry,” Tibbs said, it may also have little longstanding effect.

“Ending racial profiling would essentially mean ending policing as we know it,” Tibbs said, adding that the practice violates the constitution’s aim of empowering the people and withholding “unfettered power” from the government.  

Too often, Tibbs said, “reasonable suspicion functions at the level of populations” instead of being applied to individuals who behave in ways that arouse legitimate concern.

Citing a minute number of guns that New York City police recovered after years of stop-and-frisk practices, Tibbs said the “reasonable suspicion” standard has resulted in few guns being taken off the street and damaged police-community relations.

Tibbs said his remarks echo work that will appear in an upcoming article in the Temple Law Review