In honor of Constitution Day, celebrated each year on Sept. 17, Missouri University of Science and Technology welcomed Missouri State Rep. Michael Butler to speak on the topic of unconstitutional policing.
Butler, a Democrat, was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in November of 2012 and reelected in 2014. The St. Louis native represents District 79 in the city of St. Louis.He was invited to speak by Dr. Michael Meagher, an associate professor of political science at Missouri S&T.
Butler opened his talk to around 40 students and faculty with the story of Cary Ball Jr., a 25-year-old college student who was fatally shot by St. Louis City Police 25 times in April of 2013.
"During a routine traffic stop, Ball, who had spent time in jail as a teenager, decided not to pull over for the police," explained Butler. "He was also carrying an illegal handgun which witnesses said he tossed out the window after crashing his car at the end of a police pursuit. Police reported that Bell pointed his gun at them but did not fire. He was shot 25 times; seven of those bullets went through his back."
Butler then asked rhetorically, "Did the police officers of St Louis uphold the Constitution in their interaction with Mr. Bell? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, and that is the problem."
He explained that policing as it relates to the Constitution is found in the Fourth and 10th Amendments.
"The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be based on probable cause," Butler explained, "The 10th Amendment states that the federal government possesses only those powers delegated to it by the Constitution. All remaining powers are reserved for the states or local governments."
Because of this, he noted that policing policies and procedures vary from state to state and even municipality to municipality.
"States then can have different interpretations on what defines the use of deadly force for instance. Different states have different laws," Butler said.
Related, Butler said that this legal vagueness is confounded by the 2001 Patriot Act which provides appropriate tools to intercept and obstruct terrorism acts.
He said, "Sounds like a great idea on paper, but its misintreptation which makes the news too often these days is that it gives wide parameters for police searches and seizures of property with whatever is interpreted as probable cause. So, with all of this combined, it is almost impossible to find unconstitutional policing these days."
Butler, however, did not leave his audience without hope.
"The beauty of the Constitution is that it has the chance to change," he said. "In fact, the Founding Fathers only had 10 amendments. Since then, we've change it 17 times."
He concluded with a call to action — encouraging citizens to get involved.
"We need to change portions of the Patriot Act," he said. "We cannot sacrifice so many of our rights to privacy in the name of security. Support laws that change the Constitution and in particular that deal with the police interaction with our citizens. The Founding Fathers never wanted us to be afraid of our government. Don't be afraid to interact."