Thursday, January 10, 2013

Walking While Black

Even the dog knows the routine...

Imagine going outside your house to take the trash out, and the police stopping you to pat you down.  Imagine going for a stroll around your block, and the cops ask you for your identification.  Imagine going to your significant other's house, and being arrested for trespassing.  For millions of New Yorkers, these scenarios are no figment of their imagination, it is an everyday reality.  And everyone else seem pretty ok with that.

Everyone not including U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin , who recently issued an injunction against unjustifiable stop and frisks, done under the auspices of a program known as "Clean Halls."  The judge gave this description of the program:

A person approaches or exits a Clean Halls building in the Bronx; the police suddenly materialize, stop the person, demand identification, and question the person about where he or she is coming from and what he or she is doing; attempts at explanation are met with hostility; especially if the person is a young black man, he is frisked, which often involves an invasive search of his pockets; in some cases the officers then detain the person in a police van in order to carry out an extended interrogation about the person’s knowledge of drugs and weapons; and in some cases the stop escalates into an arrest for trespass, with all of the indignities, inconveniences, and serious risks that follow from an arrest even when the charges are quickly dropped.

Not surprisingly, the judge ruled New York's stop and frisk has got to go, that it was a violation of the 4th Amendment.

The stop and frisk policies in NYC raise very troubling issues about racial discrimination.  A full 87% of the people stopped are black or Latino, even though police were more likely to turn u weapons on whites that are stopped.  Last year the police actually stopped and frisked more blacks and Latinos than there are actually living in the city.  In one neighborhood, 93 out every 100 residents indicated that they had been stopped and frisked by the police.  Yet 9 out 10 people stopped and frisked by the police are completely innocent.  Nor have the policies driven the murder or illegal gun rate down.

What does it say about our country when we are still willing to tolerate a de facto racial discriminatory system where some citizens have more rights than others?  Where some classes are free to walk around, while others must be prepared to provide justification and identification at all times?  As the police state in America grows larger and larger, it will be interesting to observe those who previously thought themselves immune from such requirements grow increasingly comfortable with their own rights being eroded away.

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