The Precarious Line

Black Lives, Police Power, and the Fourth Amendment

A radical and timely analysis of how constitutional law has been interpreted to afford the police virtually unlimited discretion to use lethal force

“After reading this irreverent, witty, and jargon-free book, you will not be able to think about race in the same way.” —Kimberlé Crenshaw on Devon Carbado’s Acting White?

The summer of 2020 will be remembered as the watershed moment in the American struggle for racial equality. Published on the anniversary of the global protests over the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, The Precarious Line is a groundbreaking investigation by a leading constitutional scholar of the role that the Constitution and the law play in the epidemic of police violence against Black people.

In this crucially timely and radical book, celebrated UCLA critical legal studies professor Devon W. Carbado explains how the Fourth Amendment became ground zero for regulating police conduct—and every bit as consequential as Miranda warnings, the right to counsel, equal protection, and due process. Fourth Amendment law determines the precarious line between stopping and arresting Black people, and killing them.

Carbado looks at how that text, in the last four decades, has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to protect police officers, not African Americans; how it sanctions search and seizure as well as profiling; and how it has become, ultimately, an amendment of life and death. In the tradition of The New Jim Crow and Chokehold, The Precarious Line will shed light on a rarely understood dimension of one of our most pressing contemporary issues.