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Mississippi's Jump-Out Boys

The police punish people for living in a bad neighborhood.

Betty Jean Tucker, a 62-year-old resident of Canton, Mississippi, says she was hosting a barbecue for family and friends in 2014 when several unmarked cars appeared. Plainclothes deputies from the Madison County Sheriff's Department (MCSD) jumped out. Without a warrant, they detained and searched all her guests, going so far as to rummage through everyone's pockets, she says. After finding nothing, the deputies got back in their cars and drove off without explanation.

It wasn't the first time Tucker had a run-in with the MCSD. About five years ago, she says, her teenage grandson was in her front yard, fixing his brother's bicycle, when an unmarked truck sped toward him and stopped. Two plainclothes officers jumped out, tackled him to the ground, and searched him. Again finding nothing, the deputies left. Tucker shouted at them, asking what he had done. "Tell your grandson to wear a shirt next time," they allegedly replied.

Tucker is now a named plaintiff in an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) class action lawsuit against Madison County. The suit, filed in May, alleges that the sheriff's department and its plainclothes "jump-out" squads systematically target and violate the Fourth Amendment and 14th Amendment rights of residents like her just for being black and living in the wrong place.

The dozens of similar stories unearthed in the ACLU's suit and a subsequent Reason investigation are stunning, but the Madison County Sheriff's Department's tactics are not unique. Paloma Wu, a Mississippi ACLU attorney, says they only represent a "sharpened iteration" of the methods used widely in other places across the country.

The ACLU is also suing Milwaukee for its high-volume stop-and-frisk program, which the civil rights group says subjects minority residents to suspicionless searches. Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn is a disciple of "broken windows" policing—the theory that a heavy police presence in a community, combined with proactive enforcement of low-level nuisance crimes, will deter more serious offenses. Under Flynn, the combined number of police traffic and pedestrian stops in Milwaukee nearly tripled in an eight-year period, rising from 66,657 in 2007 to 196,434 in 2015, according to the lawsuit. And minorities bear the brunt of that saturation policing.

Flynn argues the strategy logically focuses on areas with the most crime. In practice, however, community activists and civil rights groups say these strategies make minority residents feel like they're under siege from police.

It's also expensive. In 2016, the city of Milwaukee paid out $5 million to 74 black residents who said they were illegally strip-searched.

If nothing else, the policy hurts relations between neighborhoods and police. Earlier this year, the Baltimore Police Department declared that it was ending its use of plainclothes police known as "jump-out boys" or "knockers" by locals. The announcement came after the federal indictment of seven Baltimore plainclothes officers on charges of robbery, extortion, racketeering, and filing false police reports.

The Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., used to have an aggressive jump-out squad that operated in the poorer wards of the District, but the city disbanded these vice squads amid community complaints in 2015. "Half of the time, they pull you over, or if you walking and they stop you, [it's because], oh, you fit a description," a black high school student in southeast D.C. told Politico that year. "A million people got black hoodies, black jeans and black shoes. Why it got to be me?" When the reporter asked a group of students if they ever felt relieved when they saw the police, she was met with a chorus of noes.

But while these programs are under scrutiny in urban environments, they often persist unchallenged in rural areas and smaller cities. In Mobile, Alabama, the police department announced in June that it would be setting up mandatory "safety checkpoints" in high-crime neighborhoods, despite community complaints that the roadblocks disproportionately affect minorities.

Citizens in an affluent neighborhood would rain hell on every public official in town if they were subjected to illegal stops and unconstitutional pat-downs, and rightly so. Why do we expect others to tolerate it just because of their zip code?

Photo Credit: Vintage map with additions by Joanna Andreasson

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    That is one way to fix these corrupt police activities when you get judgments against these departments.

    Sooner or later, the taxpayers will start to wake up and question the police activities that are causing the coffers to not runneth over.

  • AlgerHiss||

    "Citizens in an affluent neighborhood would rain hell on every public official in town if they were subjected to illegal stops ..."

    I don't believe this at all: The not-so-poor crowd will put up with this nonsense from American copping easily. Simply tell them it's for their safety and they'll lick that badge gladly.

    As well, the thug-copping described in this piece occurs all over the country....every day....to everyone. Nothing will ever get fixed until the poverty/racial component is removed.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Nothing will ever get fixed until the poverty/racial component is removed.

    I think putting individual officers and police pensions on the hook rather than taxpayers would work wonders. You can't make a racist thug not be racist, since that's a set habit of mind that has to be changed by the individual themselves, but you can financially ruin them (and their enabling coworkers/superiors) for acting like a thug.

  • Gryph||

    You attribute to racism what can simply be attributed to stupidity.

  • Zeb||

    There's a lot of overlap.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I'm saying that, whether or not racism is a motivator of the thuggery, "removing racism" is not really a fix, whereas "financially punishing thuggery" might be.

  • Libertymike||

    That "citizens in an affluent neighborhood would rain hell on every public official in town if they were subjected to illegal stops....." is progressive claptrap is evidenced by the following two examples:

    (1) Airport security kabuki theatre. Most white people want more of it - and too bad for you if you don't. Their right to safety trumps all. A progressive, contrary to much of what the alt-right contends, will not sacrifice herself and her sense of safety for anything or anybody, including the raycist cause du jour.

    (2) Boston Strong. There were some fairly affluent neighborhoods in the Boston suburbs which were subjected to door-to-door, tanks on the street police intrusions in the wake of the Marathon day bombing. White people were overwhelmingly okay and just peachy with it.

    Its about authoritarianism. It is about tyranny. Its about the surveillance state. Its about a warped culture of making heroes out of public sector loser parasites. Yes, to a limited extent, its about race. Yet, multicultural progressive virtue signalers continue to spin the yarn that its only about race.

  • sarcasmic||

    Boston Strong was sickening. "Woo hoo! We're living under martial law! Cops can do anything they want! We're not allowed to go out of our homes! Can't even walk our dogs! Look how strong we are!"

    Fucking shit.

  • Gryph||

    How is it you know what "most" white people want?
    Based on the people I know, we want the TSA removed and disbanded.
    And most of those people are "white".

    Perhaps you aren't as astute as you would like to think.

  • Libertymike||

    Go to an airport and count the number of white folk. Then count how many, like slavish sheep, accept the TSA treatment.

    I do know that of all of the white people with whom I have broached the subject, the ones who have expressed the view that the TSA should be disbanded and that government should play no role at the airports and that security should be a product of mutual and voluntary agreement between passenger and a crony-free airline are as rare as a June night in December.

  • sarcasmic||

    Then count how many, like slavish sheep, accept the TSA treatment.

    The alternative is being harassed, detained, missing your flight, and possibly going to jail.

  • Libertymike||

    True.

  • Zeb||

    I don't think that the situations you mention really parallel a random jump out on a party at someone's house. You can convince people that the airport shit is somehow protecting safety. And in any case, if you want to fly, you're stuck with it.
    "Boston Strong" was fucking pathetic, but it was also an extraordinary situation where there was some actual reason why people might think the "lockdown" BS was making them safer (which it probably actually was. But from the cops, not the terrorists.).

  • Libertymike||

    Zeb, my comment flows from the inane prose "citizens in an affluent neighborhood would rain hell on every public official in town if they were subjected if they were subjected to illegal stops...."

    I did not, nor do not, claim that the situations I mentioned parallel a random jump-out at a party.

  • Calidissident||

    His point is that the context of the examples you cite is a major reason why people tolerate it. Feelings about TSA security theater and Boston Strong are about reactions to terrorist attacks, and the latter was a brief, temporary thing. It's a lot easier to get people to go along with that compared to day-to-day harassment that has nothing to do with terrorism.

  • Libertymike||

    Point taken.

    However, look at asset forfeiture. It is a day-to-day harassment that has nothing to do with terrorism and yet people tolerate it.

  • sarcasmic||

    Most people don't know about asset forfeiture. And when they do hear about it quite often they deny that it could even be possible. After all, we're supposed to trust the police. They'd never rob people.

  • Ron||

    If you bring up asset forfeiture to most people they are what. every person I've talked to about it has and i only know about it because of I read Reason.

  • retiredfire||

    The street crime, in the neighborhoods described, is a day-to-day event and far more prevalent than terrorism.
    A group of black students in southeast DC may not feel relieved when they see the police, but elderly residents of those same neighborhoods do. And they go to community meetings demanding the police do something.

  • p3orion||

    But the group of black students in southeast DC grab BLM signs and "protest" whenever one of their crowd gets shot by a white cop (despite data showing that whites are more likely to be shot by cops than blacks) even if there's no evidence the shooting was unjustified.

    The city responds by saying they should "give them room" to protest (riot and loot.) Meanwhile, the elderly residents who came to the community meeting to ask for more protection are justifiably afraid to leave their homes.

  • Zeb||

    I suspect that they'd put up with some illegal stops. A lot of people think the police have more authority to detain people than they really do (or should, anyway). But I doubt they'd put up with a lot of high-intensity jump-out shit like what's described in the article. I also doubt it will happen, so we'll likely never know.

  • Brandybuck||

    And old lady and I were the only people in line at the Des Moines Airport TSA line. There were five TSA agents.

    TSA agent:

    Old Lady: "I feel so much safer flying now."

    True story.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Well, she hadn't been felt up like that since the '70s. It was probably pretty energizing.

  • Ron||

    AlgerHiss is correct. I tried to explain to my dad why road blocks to check every car for alcohol were illegal and all he could say was it prevents drunk driving and it was worth it. there are people who think all is good even if it only stops one no matter how many get around it.

  • retiredfire||

    Funny, the courts agree with your dad.
    How else do you think those road-blocks continue?
    Not that I agree with them, but too many, here, are barking up the wrong tree.

  • p3orion||

    Being right doesn't mean you can win, or even fight, every battle.

  • retiredfire||

    Maybe, if citizens in less-than affluent neighborhoods rained hell on the criminals there, the police wouldn't have the excuse to say they are trying to stop same from committing the "breaking of the windows".

  • Conchfritters||

    Fuck the police coming straight from the underground...

  • sarcasmic||

    When I lived in Boulder I saw this all the time. Only the targets were white college kids. Nothing else happened.

  • Libertymike||

    Boulder, sans the po-po and the progressives, is not a bad spot. You have the Pearl Street Mall, the rocky mountain backdrop, and Folsom Field.

  • sarcasmic||

    Not to mention close proximity to Red Rocks. I didn't even own a car when I lived there. Went everywhere on a bicycle. And I spent waaaaay too much time and money at the Dark Horse.

  • Libertymike||

    How long did you live there? (Sorry, I think you may have told me this many years ago, but I forget).

    Yes, Red Rocks. What a concert venue.

  • sarcasmic||

    91-96

  • Mr. Dyslexic||

    Never miss a BHTM show at Red Rocks! Absolutely the best!

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    Is this a teaser for an actual article with, I don't know, facts and stuff? I mean there's really nothing new here outside of the MS ACLU getting involved in something that I bet has been going on for decades.

    I miss Balko. #BalkoProud

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Mississippi's Jump-Out Boys
    The police punish people for living in a bad neighborhood.

    "Betty Jean Tucker, a 62-year-old resident of Canton, Mississippi, says she was hosting a barbecue for family and friends in 2014 when several unmarked cars appeared. Plainclothes deputies from the Madison County Sheriff's Department (MCSD) jumped out. Without a warrant, they detained and searched all her guests, going so far as to rummage through everyone's pockets, she says. After finding nothing, the deputies got back in their cars and drove off without explanation."

    Don't worry.
    The MCSD deputies are just a little rusty from all that time in the doughnut shops in Clinton.
    The MCSD will do better next time.

  • Bra Ket||

    Half of the time, they pull you over, or if you walking and they stop you, [it's because], oh, you fit a description," a black high school student in southeast D.C. told Politico that year. "A million people got black hoodies, black jeans and black shoes. Why it got to be me?"


    Sounds like a thug to me.

    Seriously though, khakis, haircut, tuck your shirt in. Also eyes in front, walk briskly like you're going somewhere with a purpose. Yeah you'll look like a dork, but a respectable one who gets hassled way less.

  • retiredfire||

    Dude: that would be looking too white.
    Can't be doin' dat.

  • dexter||

    I don't understand Americans, you are way more protected against police brutality and abuse under your constitution than any european people can dream of, yet if any of our cop were 1/10 of an asshole like yours, their would be blue bloods all over the Seine.
    My conclusion is that you love to suck cops cock :).

  • p3orion||

    "Earlier this year, the Baltimore Police Department declared that it was ending its use of plainclothes police known as "jump-out boys" or "knockers" by locals. The announcement came after the federal indictment of seven Baltimore plainclothes officers on charges of robbery, extortion, racketeering, and filing false police reports.

    So far this year, Baltimore (population 615,000) has had 499 homicides. That's more than twice the rate of Chicago (population 2.7 million) with 499.

    These "jump-out" squads are clearly unconstitutional, but they have little to do with so-called "broken windows policing" except for the fact that both are tactics favored by departments trying to come to grips with a high crime rate. Municipalities should be careful they don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Unfortunately, Democrat city governments often seem more interested in pandering to their minority populations (otherwise known as "crime victims") than in doing anything real to protect them.

  • p3orion||

    Typo: Baltimore has had 252 homicides so far in 2017.

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