In 2011, the New York Police Department stopped and frisked 700,000 people in a city of 8.2 million — that’s about 8.6 percent of the population, if you’re a numbers person — and 87 percent of those people who were stopped were African-American or Latino. About 45 percent of New Yorkers, and almost 60 percent of white New Yorkers, approve of the practice despite mounting evidence that it’s ineffective at doing anything besides making the city’s non-white residents feel scrutinized, targeted and harassed.
New York’s Public Advocate, Bill DiBlasio, put up an interactive website that shows not only how the practice disproportionately targets minorities but also describes the location and circumstances of each stop. You can zoom into your own neighborhood and see when the police stopped and frisked people, and the age and race of the people they stopped and frisked.
In 2011, the police stopped and frisked three Latino men, two African-American men, one Asian man and one gender-non-specific person of indeterminate racial background on my block. One of the men was stopped and frisked across from my apartment 4 days before Christmas. In all likelihood, these men are my neighbors, and they probably did absolutely nothing wrong.
And since they likely did nothing wrong, but were stopped anyway under a program Mayor Bloomberg intends to continue, what’s to stop police from expanding the program to anyone they deem remotely suspicious? After all, they’re already routinely stopping and searching almost 10 percent of the population without cause. Maybe tomorrow they don’t like my hair color or your shoes or the suspiciously-full diaper on my neighbor’s baby. Eroding the rights of the powerless in an effort to assuage the fears of the powerful — since the program doesn’t actually result in many arrests, the only possible motivation is to make those 60 percent of white New Yorkers who like the program feel more safe — is not only un-American, it’s a dangerous overreach that sacrifices essential liberties for the temporary illusion of safety (with apologies to Mr. Franklin for yet another paraphrase.)
H/T to Foster Kamer.
[“Kid With Handcuffs On Hands” on Shutterstock]