Juvenile Justice

The “Reasonable Black Child”—Youth, Race, and the Fourth Amendment

By Laura Cohen

David, a 16-year-old African American boy, stood on the sidewalk, his feet frozen to the pavement. It was 9:00 p.m. on a summer night, and he had just walked out of his family’s home to get ice cream at the corner store. The house was located on a residential street where police were a constant presence and routinely stopped and questioned neighborhood youths. Two uniformed officers approached and positioned themselves on either side of David. Hands on their waists, they asked him a series of questions: “What’s your name? Do you live around here? Where are you going? Why are you out so late?” A wave of conflicting emotions washed over David: fear, frustration, and anger. He also felt sure that, if he tried to walk away, the police would physically restrain him—or worse. When one of the officers asked if he had “anything” on him, David reluctantly reached into his pocket and pulled out a small bag of marijuana. His trip to the store turned into a trip to the police station and, ultimately, to juvenile court.

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