Here is a challenge for you. Reconcile the following:
In 1791, the Bill of Rights was ratified, including the Fourth Amendment, guaranteeing “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
In 2015, a 21-year-old woman named Charnesia Corley says she underwent a public body-cavity search for drugs at a gas station in Texas.
Explain, if you can, how the former and the latter can be simultaneously true.
According to Corley, a sheriff’s deputy in Harris County – Houston is the county seat – pulled her over for a traffic violation in June. Claiming he smelled marijuana, he searched the car, then called a female deputy to search Corley. She says the woman told her to pull her pants down. Corley, who was handcuffed, says she told the deputy she couldn’t and protested that she was wearing no panties. Whereupon, according to Corley, the deputy pulled the pants down herself and began her search.
Corley told CNN she “popped up” when she felt the woman’s fingers inside her and protested. Corley says the deputy replied: “I can do what I want to do, because this is a narcotics search.” Another female deputy was summoned. Corley found herself on the ground with, she says, both women on top of her. And if you were looking for the textbook definition of an “unreasonable” search, surely you could not find a better one than a bare-bottomed woman held down on the pavement in full public view while her vagina is forcibly probed for drugs.
The Harris County Sheriff has declined comment, citing an “ongoing internal affairs investigation” – and a possible civil suit. According to at least some reports, deputies did find marijuana – 0.02 ounces – though it is unclear where. The Associated Press reports that charges against Corley – drug possession and resisting arrest – were dropped last week.
Apparently, none of this is unique. The Washington Post tells us there have been similar cases in Oakland, Chicago, Atlanta, and in Citrus County and Coral Springs, Fla. The victims have been both male and female.
And so, we reap the fruit of our own short-sightedness. In their hysteria over drugs and sanguine surety that only guilty people need worry about their rights, too many of us have watched with acquiescence the steady erosion of the freedoms that stand between us and a police state. The government arrogates unto itself the power to seize a person’s money without even bringing charges, the Supreme Court gives police unfettered power to stop cars on any pretext in order to hunt for drugs, police stop and frisk – and cuff and beat – without probable cause, and some of us shrug and say, so what?
Well, this is what: Charnesia Corley ends up humiliated and sexually assaulted, spread-eagle on the ground with our collective fingers up her individual private parts. Apparently, some of us find that less terrifying than 0.02 ounces of pot.
It is past time those somnambulant people woke up to what is happening here, to what is being stolen. Drugs are a danger, yes. But in response to that danger, we have accorded police too much deference, leeway and power. That observation is not about disrespecting them, but requiring that they respect us, the people they work for.
There is, not to put too fine a point on it, zero respect in a sheriff’s deputy publicly poking her fingers into another woman’s vagina – on suspicion, mind you, of marijuana possession. How can you reconcile that with the Fourth Amendment? You can’t.
“I can do what I want to do.” So the deputy reportedly told Corley. And that should scare you.
Because it wasn’t just arrogant. It was also, apparently, correct.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at email@example.com.