Wednesday, April 15, 2015

overseers enforcing ludicrous laws and making up laws to violate citizens rights

slate |  There’s wide consensus around the video: Walter Scott was shot and killed in cold blood as he ran for his life from Michael Slager, the cop who stands charged with his murder in North Charleston, South Carolina. But Scott’s demise was set in motion moments earlier, when Slager decided to pull him over for a traffic violation—a stop that never should have happened.

The dashcam video leaves no doubt as to why Slager pulled over Scott: “The reason for the stop is that your third brake light’s out,” Slager told Scott, minutes prior to the fatal shooting.

Slager’s asserted “reason” had no premise in South Carolina law: Scott’s vehicle was in full compliance. Lacking reasonable suspicion that Scott was doing something illegal, Slager should’ve never pulled him over in the first place, unless his true motive was something other than a concern for enforcing the laws he took an oath to uphold.

Policing minor traffic violations as a pretext for more intrusive, “crime-fighting” stops is a real and dangerous problem—Slate’s Jamelle Bouie broke down the numbers of how people of color are hit hardest by this rampant style of roadside discrimination.

But there’s another problem: The legal pretexts police use for such traffic stops can be plainly mistaken or made up.

South Carolina law is straightforward on the issue of third brake lights. Motor vehicles must be equipped with “a stop lamp on the rear”—a singular brake light, which is to be maintained in good working order. A South Carolina appeals court has confirmed this reading: A single operating brake light means a vehicle is “in full compliance with all statutory requirements regarding rear vehicle lights,” and a stop premised on requiring anything more is “unreasonable” and thus a violation of the driver’s constitutional rights.

So why did Slager pull over Scott? If what he said, as captured on the dashcam account, is to be believed, Slager made a mistake and decided to “seize” Scott for a law not in the books. In a perfect world, such errors should never give a police officer an opportunity to stop anyone.


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