Here we go again, jerking the steering wheel to the left after we oversteered to the right (in an effort to correct a left bias), vainly seeking a reasonable, middle road between the pull of public safety and that of individual rights. The events of 9/11 led Congress to enact the USA Patriot Act, granting enormous new powers to law enforcement agencies. Now, we are once more trying to correct the overcorrection with little hope of striking the right balance. (Just wait for the next terrorist attack to witness additional overreactions.)
It is no accident that the issue of gun sweeps in Chicago’s public housing recently caught the attention of the president of the United States and the national press. The question of the legitimacy of those sweeps has profound implications for the future of civility in American society.
While Washington sweats out the crime bill, communities from coast to coast are experimenting successfully with various antiviolence measures.
Nobody calls it “group searches,” not to mention “the search and seizure of the innocents,” although both terms would capture an important trend in our courts’ interpretations of the Fourth Amendment. In fact, many observers still cite what is held to be the prevailing interpretation of the Fourth Amendment: that no one is subject to search and seizure unless there is “probable cause” that the particular person has committed a crime, is committing one or appears predisposed to commit one (say, carries a bomb).