Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Against race-based policing

A federal judge slammed the New York Police Department yesterday with a ruling that its notorious stop-and-frisk policy was unconstitutionally discriminatory and violated our rights to be presumed inoocent of wrongdoing unless there was probable cause—not including belonging to a member of a racial minority or living in a high-crime neighborhood.

As anticipated, the reaction from Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD was completely hysterical. Bloomberg announced that the city would ignore the ruling and anyone telling them to go along with it is a murderer. (We assume this label does not include the stop-and-frisk-loving uniformed cop who followed Ramarley Graham into his Bronx bathroom and shot him—but I digress.)

Commissioner Kelly was just as bad, wailing that the judge’s remedies to assure fairness in police treatment of citizens was going to hobble (or in the Murdoch tabloid’s term, ‘cuff’) the cops.

What ever happened to, If you’re innocent, you shouldn’t worry?? How curious that the cops suddenly don’t think it’s benign and harmless to be filmed constantly while you’re going about your usual business. Why are they so upset IF THEY’RE NOT DOING ANYTHING WRONG?

Well, glory be, having one’s every move videotaped and stored DOES have a chilling effect after all. Fascinating how once the cameras are turned on the powerful, suddenly they are intrusive, annoying, unfair, offensive, and whatnot. I wonder how they would feel about their internal communications being uploaded to the NSA database and stored for use in future investigations and trials.

The reaction from the city’s five Democratic candidates eager to take over Bloomberg’s job was fascinating and should guide our voting choices in three weeks. Comptroller John Liu has insisted from the beginning that the stop-and-frisk policy had to go; by total coincidence, his campaign was under investigation for two years for finance irregularities, his treasurer was indicted, and he will get no matching funds.

Christine Quinn, the frontrunner, thinks a little tweaking should be applied to the policy but that all in all, it’s a pretty effective crime-fighting tool, sort of like beheading in Saudi Arabia where crime rates are very low.

Anthony Weiner probably has an opinion about stop-and-frisk that balances the thoughts of people totally against it with the thoughts of people totally for it and expertly parses the difference so that each will think he agrees with them. But who cares about Anthony Weiner?

Bill de Blasio has been critical of stop-and-frisk without saying he’d eliminate it, and suddenly, remarkably, he’s leading! This relatively unknown figure has fairly good positions although a very slight accomplishment record, and he has shamelessly broadcast his biracial family in his ads. But since New York is now completely race-blind, and the police department does NOT racially profile anyone, his mixed-race son’s prominence has nothing whatever to do with his recent bounce in the polls.

As commentators have surmised, the blow to stop-and-frisk is at least partially a result of popular indignation and mobilization against it. Meanwhile, Stephen Walt, the international affairs expert, wrote a thoughtful piece on the ruling entitled ‘America’s Paranoid Stop & Frisk on a Global Scale’. In it he compares the NYPD approach to security to Obama’s style of drone warfare:

‘Stop and frisk’ is essentially an act of preemption or prevention: the suspect hasn't committed a crime, but the police go after the person on the basis of the thinnest of suspicions, like a bulging pocket or the loosely defined ‘furtive gestures’.

Now think about the United States' use of drones or special operations forces to conduct ‘targeted assassinations’ of suspected terrorists. In many cases, U.S. officials have some reason to think somebody might be planning a terrorist operation, but the person isn't actually doing it when officials decide to take the individual out. Notice that this policy goes way beyond mere ‘stop and frisk’: if the United States can't apprehend someone it thinks might be dangerous, these days it just blows the person away and calls the individual a ‘suspected terrorist’ afterward.
Read the whole essay here and then reflect upon the Bush/Obama imperial style settling in and occupying not just foreign lands, but our own.

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