Police in Oakland disproportionately stop and search African American pedestrians and motorists under the parameters of “reasonable suspicion” — a vague legal standard that can amount to little more than an officer’s hunch.
From September 2014 to September 2015, more than 34,000 people were stopped by Oakland police, 1,876 for reasonable suspicion. About 70 percent were black, even though just 26.5 percent of Oakland residents are African American, according to a Chronicle analysis.
Reasonable suspicion is the lowest legal threshold officers must clear to conduct a rudimentary search without consent. Unlike traffic or probable cause stops, which require tangible evidence of a violation or crime, reasonable suspicion can be invoked if someone fits a suspect’s physical description, inconsistently answers questions or displays any other signs that they’re engaged in criminal activity.
Because of its broad scope, even legal experts have a hard time defining the term. Critics say it can encourage racial profiling — both conscious and subconscious.