Saturday, March 6, 2021

Josephine Ross's "A Feminist Critique of Police Stops"

Josephine Ross is a professor of law at Howard University School of Law, Washington DC. She was a public defender in Massachusetts for seven years, then served as an interim executive director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders before beginning a teaching career at Boston College Law School. She has published numerous law review articles, first on marriage equality and then on topics involving criminal (in)justice. 

Ross applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A Feminist Critique of Police Stops, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Police officers might view any exercise of any right as disrespectful. That includes the right to pull out one’s phone and record the exchange. The culture of coercion underscores the central argument in this book that consent stops, consent searches and ‘voluntary’ interrogations are neither voluntary nor consensual.
The test works beautifully here. Page 99 pulls together two threads to end the fourth chapter of this book. One thread explains how the law puts the burden on the individual to exercise their rights during police stops, while the second thread illustrates through stories, why it is dangerous to do so.

Readers understand the term “consent stop” from chapter 2. An officer engaged Michelle Cooks in a “consent stop” which means that had she stayed to answer his questions, the law would say that Ms. Cooks waived her right to walk away. But when Ms. Cooks exercised her constitutional rights by walking away, the officer tackled her, even though she was innocent and eight months pregnant. No wonder most people consent to do whatever police ask.

What courts call “consent” in these situations, feminists would call submission. Years ago, a woman who reported that she was raped must show that she fought back. Feminists were able to show how fear and power imbalance can lead a woman to unwillingly submit to a more powerful man. Similarly, officers have all the power in these relationships. People who are stopped, often those who are the least powerful members of society, must say “no” to police even though they feel powerless and vulnerable.

The downside to focusing on page 99 is that it leaves out other important feminist analyses. Let’s take bodily integrity. Even constitutionally approved frisks might feel like a sexual assault because they are so intrusive. A feminist approach to the law sees the frisk from the point of view of the powerless civilian. My book takes a feminist lens to see how the law works, where it doesn’t work, and where we must fix it, as we did by creating laws against sexual harassment.
Learn more about A Feminist Critique of Police Stops at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue