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From Courtesy, to Discretion... to Heightened Police Power
"In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court legitimized pretextual policing. The case of Whren v. United States began when a vice squad officer noticed a Pathfinder SUV with temporary license plates waiting at a stop sign for more than 20 seconds—an unusually long time to pause at an empty intersection—in what the officer considered a 'high drug area' of Washington, D.C. Inside were two young black men. Suspicious, but without any specific reasons that the car’s occupants might be committing a crime, the officer stopped the car for making a right turn without signaling and driving at an 'unreasonable' speed. When the officer stepped up to the driver-side window, he saw two plastic bags of crack cocaine in Michael Whren’s hands.

Whren and his friend in the passenger seat appealed their federal drug convictions to the Supreme Court. They argued that pretextual traffic stops violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits 'unreasonable searches and seizures' and generally requires an articulable suspicion to stop—that is, to make a “seizure” of—an individual. Because the officer did not have legal cause to act on his mere hunch that criminal activity was afoot, he relied on minor traffic violations to investigate....

The social and legal developments that have led to the systematic policing of minorities, however, did not begin with an intent to do so. The history of discretionary policing, which today enables racialized policing, actually begins with the mass production of the automobile and the practical need to regulate upstanding citizens."

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