Earlier this month, the Star published a letter from Marion County Prosecutor Scott Newman, defending his policy of concentrating resources in crime-prone areas against charges of racial insensitivity. He dismissed such concerns –expressed by a prior letter writer–as the "kind of thinking typical of American Civil Liberties…
Earlier this month, the Star published a letter from Marion County Prosecutor Scott Newman, defending his policy of concentrating resources in crime-prone areas against charges of racial insensitivity. He dismissed such concerns –expressed by a prior letter writer–as the "kind of thinking typical of American Civil Liberties Union lawyers, but not of average citizens who have to put up with violent crime in their midst."
The Prosecutor may not engage in racial stereotypes, as he insists, but he has clearly–and gratuitously–stereotyped civil libertarians.
Following the implementation of the policy in question, our office received several calls from the media, asking whether the concentration of police power in poorer, minority neighborhoods was constitutionally suspect. As I explained to those who called, the ICLU finds it perfectly appropriate to concentrate public safety resources in areas where crime is rampant; indeed, a failure to do so would give rise to the argument that government considered citizens in such neighborhoods somehow less deserving of protection than those residing in "nicer" neighborhoods.
The callers’ real concern, of course, is that police will be less likely to observe the constitutional niceties in poor neighborhoods, where the residents are less likely to know their rights and assert them. If the targeted lawabiding residents are subject to unwarranted harassment–searches made without probable cause; stops for no apparent reason–that behavior would be evidence of a willingness to treat citizens differently based upon where they live or the color of their skin. Such behavior would indeed be a concern of the "American Civil Liberties Union lawyers" Newman disdains–and it should also be a concern of his. The reason people questioned the Prosecutor’s policy in the first place is that government officials have an unfortunate history of ignoring the rights of powerless or marginal people. That history teaches us that we must take special care to insure that otherwise appropriate and necessary programs are implemented properly.
The City of Indianapolis can take justifiable pride in the fact that, to date, there have been few complaints about the behavior of police officers in the targeted neighborhoods. One hopes that the statistics will soon reflect a drop in crime in those areas as well. Such results will be applauded by civil libertarians, who believe in the rule of law for all citizens, police officers as well as civilians. We are not, as Newman suggests, opposed to the use of police power. We are opposed to its misuse. Citizens certainly have a right to expect effective policing by those who are responsible for the public safety. They also have a right to be free of harassment based solely on the color of their skin, or their residence in a suspect neighborhood. As Newman himself points out, those goals are not incompatible. As an officer of the Court, I would expect him to agree with "ACLU lawyers" that respecting the laws while enforcing the laws is government’s job.