In 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington. The Court held that full strip searches, including cavity searches, are permissible regardless of the existence of basic reasonable suspicion that the arrestee is in possession of contraband. Further, the Court held that law enforcement may conduct full strip searches after arresting an individual for a minor offense and irrespective of the circumstances surrounding the arrest. These holdings upended typical search jurisprudence. Florence sanctions the overreach of state power and extends to law enforcement and corrections officers the unfettered discretion to conduct graphically invasive, suspicion-less strip searches. The Court’s dereliction of duty is enough to concern all citizens. However, the impact of this phenomenal lapse will not be felt equally in the age of what Bonilla-Silva has termed colorblind racism. In 2013, in the case of Floyd v. City of New York, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin found that between January 2004 and June 2012, the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) made 4.4 million stops. She further found that more than eighty percent of these 4.4 million stops were of Blacks or Hispanics. Specifically, Judge Scheindlin found that in “52% of the 4.4 million stops, the person stopped was black, in 31% the person [stopped] was Hispanic, and in 10% the person stopped was white.” This rate of stops and frisks is grossly disproportionate to Black and Hispanic population representation in New York City and the United States in general. Further, as Judge Scheindlin astutely points out, “The NYPD’s policy of targeting ‘the right people’ for stops . . . is not directed toward the identification of a specific perpetrator, rather, it is a policy of targeting expressly identified racial groups for stops in general.” These findings make clear that Florence and colorblind racism enable law enforcement to wage war against the civil rights of minority citizens. This Article argues that the Court’s phenomenal lapse in Florence and its general abdication of law enforcement oversight inevitably subjects minorities, particularly Blacks and Latinos, to the blanket authority of law enforcement to harass and humiliate based on perfunctory arrests predicated on the slightest of infractions. Other legal analyses of Florence have largely ignored, and hence minimized, the salience of race when thinking about strip searches. In light of the significant consequential impacts of this decision on minority populations, this oversight is itself unreasonable. This paper will analyze the rationale and policy implications, particularly for people of color, in light of Florence. Finally, I will also propose policy recommendations to temper the projected negative impacts of the decision.
Strip Searching in the Age of Colorblind Racism: The Disparate Impact of Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington,
Mich. J. Race & L.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mjrl/vol21/iss1/3