Book Review: Policing the Open Road

The concept that vehicles = freedom is a pervasive American fantasy. The fact is that the rise of the vehicle — and rampant unlawful behaviors which have all the time accompanied it — helped give rise to an armed avenue safety power that too typically acts as decide, jury, and executioner.

Sarah Seo’s guide, Policing the Open Road (2019, Harvard University Press), is a cultural historical past of how we arrived at the system we’ve got at present, instructed by the lens of jurisprudence and legislation enforcement. It’s about how governments scrambled to manage the vehicle revolution, about the overwhelming quantity of legal guidelines they created, the must make them uniform, and the way the course of of making the guidelines of the highway, and implementing them, remodeled America’s idea of privateness and freedom.

Take, for instance, driving on the proper aspect of the highway. After being ticketed by a state trooper for driving on the mistaken aspect, a person employed a lawyer who argued that there was no “mistaken” aspect, that the legislation merely said that you just needed to pull to the proper while you met an oncoming automotive. That man had his day in courtroom and gained. It appears that proto-advisory shoulders have been the legislation of the land in early Twentieth-century Iowa.

The hiring of a lawyer tips-off one in every of Seo’s important themes: Before the vehicle, the white higher courses didn’t work together with legislation enforcement. That modified with the creation of visitors legal guidelines. “Law-abiding residents have been apparently incapable of governing themselves on the highway,” and so they didn’t like being policed. They employed legal professionals, complained, pushed-back and boasted of visitors violations at cocktail events. “Maintaining the public’s help whereas at the similar time managing visitors constituted ‘one in every of the police division’s most severe issues.’”

“Black residents needed to anticipate the risk of encountering an abusive officer.”

Having to implement legal guidelines upon the higher courses is what led to the professionalization of the police — the uniforms, the marked vehicles, the hiring requirements. It led to criminalizing disobedience and the ticketing system. The progress of automobility served as “the justification and the modality for scaling up police legislation enforcement as a technique for governing all American society.”

Prohibition and the want to go looking and seize, and later the War on Drugs, introduced this juggernaut of policing into battle with the Fourth Amendment’s constitutional safety in opposition to search and seizure. A big a part of Seo’s guide is about the path of case legislation making an attempt to reconcile the novelty of a non-public object (the automotive) working in the public house (the highway), and in the end the query of what’s personal and what’s public. This legacy has left us with ideas comparable to reasonableness, possible trigger, and an unlimited enlargement of police officer discretion.

Seo doesn’t point out Black folks till over half method by the guide. That shocked me as a result of her lede into the podcast interview I listened to previous to studying the guide was the demise of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old Black lady killed in 2015 by a Texas police officer after being pulled over for a minor visitors violation. On the podcast, Seo famous that each step in Bland’s demise had concerned a automotive and the police. Seo’s choice to depart out swaths of society in the first half of the guide will be justified in that the transformation of jurisprudence she discusses was pushed by middle-class white folks in vehicles.

For me, that focus had the literary impact of giving the guide the inevitability of a tragedy. It’s with dread one reads that “by directing officers to be thoughtful of the common motoring public however not of the criminally suspect, the mandate of courtesy implicitly acknowledged the police’s more and more discretionary authority to discern the distinction between the two.” We know which individuals will probably be thought of criminally suspect — immigrants, the poor, Blacks. We know the place that is headed.

This drumbeat builds to the second half of the guide which seamlessly interweaves the racial and social problems with policing inside the authorized system. It’s in the closing chapters that Seo discusses cease and frisk, the distinction between arbitrary versus discriminatory policing, the focusing on of civil rights activists for visitors stops, Driving While Black and the actuality that “Black residents needed to anticipate the risk of encountering an abusive officer.”

Last Friday, Seo wrote an op-ed for the New York Times advocating for automated pace cameras as a method of decreasing police encounters and avoiding selective or discriminatory stops. She additionally talked about higher engineering of roads, noting that “the individuals who discovered how to attract a line down the center of the highway did extra to implement the the keep-to-the-right rule than something the police may do.”

Policing the Open Road is the uncommon guide which adjustments the method you have a look at the world. I discovered it unexpectedly shifting and strongly advocate it, with the caveat that the second half will probably be robust going for readers who will not be inquisitive about the logic of case legislation and jurisprudence.

Lisa Caballero

— Lisa Caballero, [email protected]
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