Stop and think
Questionable stop-and-frisk gains in stopping crime do not justify tossing the Bill of Rights
By Kevin Uhrich 08/21/2013
How people have come to regard the stop-and-frisk strategy being used by police in New York, a practice in which usually innocent black and Latino men and women are subjected to often humiliating searches, could be compared in a lot of ways to how a “story” in The Onion described a general feeling about the controversial mascot of a certain pro football team.
As “America’s Finest News Source,” tells it, “A new study published Monday by the University of New Mexico confirmed that the name of the Washington Redskins is only offensive if you take any amount of time whatsoever to think about its actual meaning.” Said the fake study’s author, “When you hear or say Redskins in the abstract, it’s completely harmless, but we’ve discovered that if you briefly pause to remember it’s a racial slur for an indigenous group wiped out by genocide over the course of a few centuries, then, yeah, it’s awful.” The piece goes on to point out that “only if you allow the NFL franchise’s name to register in your mind does it evoke the thought of human beings devastated by the forced removal from tribal lands, intentional exposure to smallpox, and countless massacres. It has the potential to come across as a degrading relic of an ethnocentric mentality responsible for the destruction of an entire people and their culture, but that’s only if you take a couple seconds to recognize it as something beyond a string of letters.”
Stop-and-frisk, a catchy string of words in its own right, is kind of that way as well: It sounds great, even if it makes some of us a little bit queasy, even in theory. But what does it really mean when one stops and thinks about it?
When people actually do that, they must realize that stop-and-frisk means throwing out the Fourth and 14th amendments in order to achieve law enforcement’s very limited goals through the use of racial profiling, violating people’s privacy rights and conducting warrantless stops, searches and seizures. If people do think about it, as has US District Judge Shira Scheindlin, do they then say, as The Onion’s faux researcher discovered, yeah, it’s pretty awful?
They should if they don’t. Unfortunately, the people responsible for initiating this affront to the Constitution under the rubric of keeping people “safe” from crime have thought about it a great deal, and they have concluded that the marginal public safety gains made by these types of intrusive law enforcement practices — tactics aimed at locking people up that are usually more closely associated with authoritarian regimes — are worth the sacrifices of civil liberties that must be made in order for it to work.
However, the problem is stop-and-frisk doesn’t work, at least according to Judge Scheindlin and the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Using FBI crime statistics, the NYCLU found that violent crimes in New York indeed fell by 29 percent from 2001 to 2010, but those numbers also plummeted in other large cities that didn’t use stop-and-frisk: Violent crime in Los Angeles fell by 59 percent; New Orleans, by 56 percent; Dallas, 49 percent; and violent crime in Baltimore dropped by 37 percent during that time.
All told, there were some 4.4 million stops in New York from 2002 to 2011, and guns were found in less than .2 percent of all stops.
According to the NYCLU, “From 2002 to 2011, black and Latino residents made up close to 90 percent of people stopped, and about 88 percent of stops — more than 3.8 million — were of innocent people.”
A recent telephone survey conducted by Quinnipiac University with 1,298 registered voters in New York found that 57 percent of white and 53 percent of Latino voters approved of stop-and-frisk, while only 25 percent of African-American voters said they approved, reported The Associated Press.
According to The AP, nearly 87 percent of the nearly 700,000 people stopped by NYPD officers in 2011 were black or Latino. About half of those people were frisked, and about 10 percent were arrested.
Scheindlin’s ruling didn’t end the program. Rather, the judge appointed a federal monitor to oversee NYPD reforms, such as more training, better supervision and more accurate data collection and analysis, according to Time.
“You are not doing away with stop-and-frisk,” William Bratton, former chief of both the LAPD and NYPD and no stranger to court-ordered monitors, told the magazine. “The heart and soul of [Scheindlin’s] finding is that the department has not put enough resources in this issue.”
It seems the NYPD will be finally forced to stop and think about making earnest efforts at changing its racist behavior in efforts to keep all New Yorkers safe.
Now, if only the same could be said for the owners of that racist pro football team in their efforts to make millions of dollars in profits from tickets sales and TV revenue by keeping us entertained, because, yeah, like stop-and-frisk in its current form, that name is really awful. n