Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Stop, frisk, scare, humiliate, and criminalize—in oh-so-blue New York

The suit against the NYPD for its notorious “stop-and-frisk” policy has gone further to undermine the bogus rationale for it than a whole passel of street demonstrations, which are easy to stereotype and mock. But there’s something austere and hard to brush off about a courtroom and sworn testimony.

Day after day, the department is being stripped naked on the stand as active-duty cops describe how they’re forced to meet arrest and summons quotas, given blatantly racist targets, and punished if they fail to get with the program as defined by the top brass. Even Commissioner Ray Kelly got slapped down in abstentia yesterday when a state senator quoted him saying that the tactic is aimed at generating “fear” among black and Hispanic males. When the city’s lawyers tried to read his rebuttal into the record, the judge cut them off and said Kelly wasn’t allowed to score PR points unless he’d like to drop by for some sworn testimony. That is NOT going to happen because no top cop will ever go under oath to talk about stop-and-frisk in this life or the next, not if they can help it.

The ugly truth about this permanent and everyday assault on non-whites is no news to anyone paying attention, but it is quite delightful to see the truth trickling out in such an embarrassing fashion. It forces the willfully naïve among the city’s liberal elite to chow down on the reality facing New York’s minority kids and many adults. The same tactics wouldn’t survive a week if it were white kids getting harassed and criminalized every time they walked out the door, but the conspiracy to jam blacks can continue as long as the cops maintain plausible deniability. That is finally evaporating.

So let’s review: “stop-and-frisk” is a standing NYPD policy under which cops can grab a kid off the street and pat him down if they have cause to think he’s acting suspiciously. That sounds reasonable until you factor in the assumption of criminal intent that cops harbor on minority kids who live with the constant expectation of being treated like criminals for the way they look. Guys are humiliated in front of their relatives and girlfriends, especially when the frisk includes gratuitous touching of the genitals, and any resistance is of course futile because the cops are always right.

A vast number of pot busts result from this tactic, often involving trickery as cops order the kids to empty their pockets, which is not legally a “search” that would require probable cause. Bad as that is (because it instantly puts the kid into the maw of the criminal system for life), there’s something profoundly oppressive just about knowing that a force of hostile, armed guys can come up and put their hands on you any time they want. The trial has shown that that is exactly the point—to demoralize black and brown males and to induce helplessness and fear—sort of like the Israeli approach to Gaza.

Stop-and-frisk is a calculated strategy by Bloomberg’s million-billionaire-friendly city administration to beat down poor people because these same masters of the universe don’t need them, can’t provide them with decent jobs or education, and have to control them from rebelling at the unfairness of their lives. It’s part of the Giuliani legacy of ramping up policing on everything from turnstile-jumping and public drinking (as part of the now discredited “broken windows” theory of urban life) to more serious crimes like robbery.

But it’s also part and parcel of the shocking number of police killings of unarmed young people, swiftly followed by perfectly shaped narratives about the supposed threat the dead kid presented to them. Once in a while the facts don’t add up, but mostly the trigger-happy guys in blue get away with it. That’s also part of the scheme, to remind the kids that not only do they have to submit, but that the price of resistance could easily be death.

You know that the winds are shifting if a seasoned cynic like Christine Quinn is making noises about the policy and calling for an inspector general to be created for the NYPD. That caused the brass and the mayor himself to stick out their tongues at Quinn and make her look less like a Bloomberg lapdog for her tightening mayoral primary—which I assume was the goal of the whole exercise.

The city won’t give up on this abusive approach, and if it’s declared illegal, they’ll find a way to subvert the judgment and keep doing it anyway. But we’ve got their number, and that’s a small step forward.

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