Ed. Note: This isn’t a post about what happened to Lt. Caron Nazario. I make that absolutely clear up front because I will be brutal about it later in the comments. Don’t go there.
For the most part, the twitter account @BadLegalTakes has a fun, if overwhelming, time, retwitting screen caps of legally ignorant things being spewed on twitter, mostly by non-lawyers, but occasionally by lawyers and even the President of the United States. There is no shortage of legal ignorance, with a certainty of correctness that would make Dunning and Kruger blush.
For the most part, they are laughably dumb, but generally harmless. Once in a while, however, they come from a twitter account of someone with a sufficiently large following, famous or credible as to go beyond amusing into the realm of dangerous. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people will see the twit and believe it to be accurate and rely upon it. At their peril.
MSNBC anchor Joy Reid issued such a twit. There is a possibility that someone, maybe a black life, will die because of her breathtaking ignorance.
— Bad Legal Takes (@BadLegalTakes) April 10, 2021
Reid has more than two million followers on twitter. As a cable news anchor on a network that’s blindly accepted by members of her faith, she posseses ascribed, if utterly unearned, credibility. And she just told them that they have rights, that they should stand up for those rights, in a way calculated to get them beaten, to get them killed. If it happens, she will no doubt blame it on the usual culprits, but that would be a lie. Joy Reid, in her stunning idiocy, is responsible.
My initial reaction to seeing this from the @BadLegalTweets, since I’m not a close follower of things Joy Reid twits, was to add in by quote this:
This is a particularly dangerous bit of idiotic horseshit that could get you killed.
My language is strong in the hope that it might catch a few heads to alert people that this was not the usual “funny” bad legal twit, but a dangerous one. A deadly one. I followed up with this.
No, you do not have a right, constitutional or otherwise, to be told why you’re being stopped.
No, police are not required to answer that or any other question.
Yes, they can command you to get out of the car and if you refuse to obey, they can forcibly remove you.
For most lawyers, particularly criminal defense lawyers, this is too obvious to be worthy of discussion. Many people will argue that the law, at least as applied to any particular fact pattern, isn’t what they feel it should be, or that the cops could have, and should have, done better. All of that may be true, although rarely do non-lawyer commenters have a sufficiently firm grasp of law to appreciate that the laws apply to myriad situations, and don’t change when a driver is of a particular race, or is particularly sympathetic, or one can totally understand why someone refuses to obey a lawful order.
The law does not compel police to be foul-mouthed vicious brutes, taking the opportunity to make an interaction more confusing, stressful and threatening. The law does not require police to use the greatest amount of force the law permits. The law does not preclude police from demonstrating the smallest degree of empathy and understanding as to why a scenario is happening the way it is, so as to not only satisfy the First Rule of Policing, for the cops to make it home for dinner, but to allow everyone to make it home for dinner.
First, survive. The rule is “comply now, grieve later.” Yes, even compliance is no guarantee that cops won’t beat you or kill you, but it vastly enhances your likelihood of survival. Yes, there are extreme cases where cops engage in outrageous illegal conduct toward compliant people, from forcing women in custody to engage in sex to a toilet plunger handle rammed up a man’s anus. But these are extreme outliers. Of a million police interactions, most end with no harm coming to anyone. Do what you have to do to survive the encounter, then fight like hell about it later.
A few hours after @BadLegalTakes’ twit, after my twit, Joy Reid deleted her expounding on the law and updated it.
Update: as this is in question and I am not a lawyer, here is the @ACLU explanation of your rights when stopped. To be clear: your 4th and 5th amendment rights apply (no illegal searches/right to remain silent), but states differ on what cops must tell you:https://t.co/WbVc1mYNuJ
— Joy-Ann Pro-Democracy & Masks Reid 😷 (@JoyAnnReid) April 10, 2021
Will the million eyeballs who saw her initial twit, who retwitted it and commented gushingly about her bold stance, see her subsequent twit? Does her “update” undo the damage of her breathtaking ignorance, “and I am not a lawyer” which did nothing to prevent her from playing one on twitter, and correct her outrageously dangerous assertions? The ACLU post about being stopped by police is fine, but people don’t click through and read the posts linked in twits, particularly when they have already read a twit that tells them what they want to believe.
Joy Reid could have quoted her earlier twit and informed her more than two million followers that what she said was ignorant, wrong and dangerous. She could have told them not to do what she claimed they could do. She could have said that following her “and I am not a lawyer” advice could get them killed. She could have. But she didn’t.
And it is of no avail that there are instances where the “rule” failed, where cops did horrible things despite a person being compliant. These things happen. Not with the frequency people claim, but that they happen at all is inexcusable. But this doesn’t change the law, even if you feel it should. There are, in most instances, sound reasons why the law plays out as it does, even if it’s overly reliant on the good faith and reasonableness of police in the performance of their duties. This is why there is need for reforms, although not the simplistic reforms most scream about on social media and, sadly, not even the real reforms that are oversold by deceitful proponents, like the abolition of qualified immunity.
Fight for smart, sustainable, viable reform. Condemn police abuse and misconduct, But you can’t do that if you’re dead. People like Joy Reid will end up killing people with their ignorance. Don’t lives matter?