Washington, D.C. – A sitting judge, Justice Janice Rogers Brown, has advised citizens on how to deal with police attempting to engage in “fishing expeditions.”
Brown urges citizens to address officers “firmly, politely, (and) respectfully,” and to exercise their right to end “voluntary” encounters with police by stating:
“I do not wish to have an encounter with the police right now. Am I free to leave?”
On Tuesday, Brown, as part of a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, said members of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Gun Recovery Unit are allowed to approach people on the street. They can then inquire as to whether they were carrying firearms and would consent to a search.
While agreeing that those encounters are legitimate, Brown expressed displeasure with the situation by writing a separate concurring opinion.
“Our jurisprudence perpetuates a fiction of voluntary consent where none exists,” Brown wrote.
The honesty from a sitting judge was refreshing, yet startling, as Brown wrote:
With the guise of voluntary consent stripped away, the reality of the District’s regime is revealed. It is a rolling roadblock that sweeps citizens up at random and subjects them to undesired police interactions culminating in a search of their persons and effects. If the Fourth Amendment is intended to offer meaningful protection in the context of Terry stops, the voluntary-consent exemption cannot be used to engage with members of the public en masse and at random to fabricate articulable suspicions for virtually every citizen officers encounter on patrol.
What Brown is essentially saying is that when militarized officers dressed for war, approach civilians on the street and request that they allow a search, citizens have only the illusion of freedom in that situation. The person is being coerced to comply, as the officer will often attempt to use a refusal or other reaction as a means of justifying the search.
Brown says if an officer states a person can’t leave, “then coercion will cease to masquerade as consent. Our courts will be forced, at last, to directly grapple with the reality of the District’s policy of routinized and involuntary seizures.”
The commentary from Brown was in response to the case of Will Gross, which was before the court.
According to the National Law Journal:
Gross was walking in southeast Washington when police officers in a car pulled up next to him. One officer said, “[H]ey, it is the police, how are you doing? Do you have a gun?” Gross didn’t answer. The officer then asked, “Can I see your waistband?” Gross lifted up his jacket and the officers started to drive away.
But another officer in the car was suspicious and asked the driver to stop. As the officer stepped out of the car, he asked Gross if he could check him for a gun. Gross ran away. During the chase, an officer said he saw Gross pat his right side, which the officer suspected might mean he had a gun. The officer caught up to Gross and put him handcuffs. A frisk revealed a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun.
The D.C. Circuit agreed with the trial judge that Gross wasn’t subjected to an unlawful seizure under the Fourth Amendment when an officer first asked if he was carrying a gun and if he would show his waistband. D.C. Circuit Judges Sri Srinivasan and Harry Edwards heard the case along with Brown.
This case was not the first time Brown has raised questions about police tactics, as she wrote a dissenting opinion in a 2007 case that addressed when a seizure begins under the Fourth Amendment.
“In my view, truly consensual conversation (‘Have you seen this man?’) in which police are on equal terms with ordinary citizens is very different from a confrontation in which police target a particular person because they suspect him to be the criminal described in a police broadcast,” Brown wrote.
In that case, U.S. v Goddard, Brown took issue with officers with officers detaining a group of black men “conversing peaceably in front of a gas station” while searching for a suspect described as “a black male, 5’8” to 5’10” in height, about 180 to 190 pounds, wearing a black jacket or coat and blue jeans.”
“Apparently, a ‘lookout’ broadcast encompassing virtually any casually dressed black man in the vicinity made all black males fair game,” Brown wrote. “Such a generic description should never be a sufficient basis for a Terry stop.”
It seems that Brown has a very good understanding of exactly how police are utilizing the authority granted them by the state. Obviously this judge gets it.
When a sitting judge tells American citizens not engage in voluntary conversations with law enforcement, you might just live in a police state.
This important message from Brown needs to be heard by people across the America, please share this story and help empower your fellow citizens!
Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, freethinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay’s work has previously been published on BenSwann.com and WeAreChange.org. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.