The facts of this case lead me to wonder if Terry’s prudent constraints on police conduct have been forgotten in our frustration over city life plagued with drug trafficking and violent crime. As a result, what we are now tempted to enforce is not Terry but the rule that, in a high-crime neighborhood, being young, male, and black creates reasonable, articulable suspicion. See David A. Harris, Factors for Reasonable Suspicion: When Black and Poor Means Stopped and Frisked, 69 IND. L.J. 659 (1994). Here, four men were stopped. There was no constitutionally adequate justification for the initial confrontation. Three of them were innocent of criminal activity, but nevertheless faced the indignity of being placed against a rail and searched. Vaughan Walker testified he started walking away as soon as he saw the police car because he “didn’t feel like being harassed.” The lesson of today’s decision is clear: he has no choice.
When the ostensibly neutral principles set forth in Terry are thus applied, what was created to be a carefully outlined exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant and probable cause requirements is transformed into a general warrant—a police license to search out crime by playing the odds, relying on hunch, intuition, street smarts, and stereotypes. The odds are good, although the crimes charged are too often unrelated to the “suspicion” that led to the stop.