Thin Blue Lies: How Pretextual Stops Undermine Police Legitimacy

Case Western Reserve Law Review
Volume 66 | Issue 4
Thin Blue Lies: How Pretextual Stops Undermine
Police Legitimacy
Jonathan Blanks

Thin Blue Lines Pretuxtual Stops


Whren v. United States clarified the Supreme Court’s support of the practice of pretextual stops—using minor traffic violations as a reason to stop a person in order to investigate suspicious activity. However, a tactic’s legality does not make it inherently ethical, just, or effective. The following essay considers the role of pretextual stops in relation to police departments’ relationship with minority communities, particularly black communities. I argue that pretextual stops are one part of a larger and deeply troubling mélange of legal fictions, intentional deception of the innocent, and perverse incentives that undermine the perceptions of legitimacy of law enforcement, particularly for black Americans. As a partial remedy to the larger problem of police legitimacy in black communities, I contend the use of pretextual stops ought to be severely curtailed or eliminated outright in order to improve police relationships with African Americans.


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