Over the Thanksgiving holiday, three Rochester New York teens were arrested while waiting for the school bus to take them to their school’s basketball game. Their coach was almost arrested too as he came to intercede on behalf of the teen boys. The crime the boys allegedly committed according to the police was impeding pedestrian traffic or otherwise known as disorderly conduct. There has been an outcry online about the case. These are teens who plan to attend college and were playing sports and involved in after school activities. These were not teens engaged in any rude, unlawful or “disorderly conduct” whatever that legal term actually means.
The case has been discussed on TV and radio. Most recently, I appeared on the Roland Martin Show to discuss my viewpoint. Unfortunately, the case of these teens is not an isolated incident. These stops and arrests of law abiding black teens take place in every city and perhaps every town across the U.S. on a daily basis. When I prosecuted, I often saw disorderly cases without any other crime involved. Honestly, I think some police arrest black teens when two or more are gathered together, in the hopes of finding illegal drugs or weapons. Whatever the reason, it did not start over Thanksgiving and has been going on for quite a long time. And many persons who live in predominant black communities in certain areas, know this is how the police act towards many black teens.
The majority of disorderly cases are eventually dismissed for lack of evidence or a fine is paid to get out of jail for a bogus charge. Sometimes the defendants charged are given 6 months to stay out of trouble and then the case is dismissed. The problem with this scenario is the harm has been caused with the arrest. The arrest puts these young black teens in the criminal justice system. And by doing so, regardless of the outcome, it lessens their opportunities in life. And it increases their chances of being accused wrongfully of something in the future. Once an individual is in the criminal justice system, it is more likely presumed that a crime did occur.
There are more blacks under the criminal justice system now than there were slaves in 1850, according to research. That includes people who are awaiting a trial, on parole or probation or in prison. And research further shows that the vast majority of the cases are misdemeanors, contrary to popular belief. But once a black man is in the criminal justice system, he is looked upon as a criminal regardless of the outcome. The mere arrest raises the suspicion of wrongdoing and thereby decreases chances and opportunities that he might have otherwise enjoyed. The scar of the arrest, regardless of the outcome creates a slippery slope for black men. Opportunities for certain jobs and higher education are lessened, among other things.
As a former prosecutor, when I was faced with someone charged with only a disorderly conduct, I knew that it was a police fishing expedition that did not catch any bait. On most occasions, I dismissed the charges as the crime itself is vague and not generally able to be proven. So the police charged them with the one thing they had in their arsenal—a disorderly conduct, nuisance or disturbing the peace charge. They are one and the same. All of these charges are meant to harass in most cases. Now that is not to say that there are not legitimate cases of disorderly conduct. But the reality is every time that two or more young black teens are standing together and refuse to move due to legitimate reasons is not grounds to arrest them. In fact, it is a civil rights violation to harass young black males simply because they are young and black. Many police officers have not read that memo yet.