Stop-and-frisk as the most visible element of deep, violent official American racism


Christopher E Smith is the white father of a black, biracial son, and it is through his son's experience of being black in America that he has learned just how pervasive and humiliating and violent officialdom is to black Americans, a fact embodied perfectly through New York City's notorious, racist stop-and-frisk program. Smith describes how his son, interning on Wall Street, has been repeatedly stopped by police, once made to lie face down on the filthy sidewalk in his best suit while police went through his pockets (former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg was a staunch supporter of this program). He describes the experience of his black in-laws, who are stopped by police-cars en route to family gatherings, who have guns aimed at their heads, and who are then released with a shrug and a nonsensical excuse. He describes how driving over the US/Canadian border with his son is totally different from driving on his own, and how the customs guards routinely stop the two of them, and make them wait out of sight of their car while it is searched.

As an aside, I've experienced this myself. I've driven across the US/Canadian border literally dozens of times and the only time I was stopped was when I gave Nalo Hopkinson and David Findlay -- who happen to be black -- a ride to a Clarion reunion at Michigan State University. At both border crossings, the car was searched from top to bottom, with officers taking out books and shaking the pages to look for contraband. It's never happened since. The only difference between that drive and all the others was that there were some brown-skinned people in evidence.

Smith proposes a thought experiment in which stop-and-frisk searches were mandatorily applied in keeping with overall demographics, so for every three black people that the NYPD pull over and humiliate without warrant or suspicion or probable cause, they would have to do the same to ten white people -- and suggests that this would end the program of stop-and-frisk in a heartbeat.

I think he's right.

Proponents of stop-and-frisk often suggest that the hardships suffered by young men of color might be tolerable if officers were trained to be polite rather than aggressive and authoritarian. We need to remember, however, that we are talking about imposing an additional burden on a demographic that already experiences a set of alienating “taxes” not shared by the rest of society.

I can tell myriad stories about the ways my son is treated with suspicion and negative presumptions in nearly every arena of his life. I can describe the terrorized look on his face when, as a 7-year-old trying to learn how to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in front of our suburban house, he was followed at 2-miles-per-hour from a few feet away by a police patrol car—a car that sped away when I came out of the front door to see what was going on. I can tell stories of teachers, coaches, and employers who have forced my son to overcome a presumption that he will cause behavior problems or that he lacks intellectual capability. I can tell you about U.S. Customs officials inexplicably ordering both of us to exit our vehicle and enter a building at the Canadian border crossing so that a team of officers could search our car without our watching—an event that never occurs when I am driving back from Canada by myself.

If I hadn’t witnessed all this so closely, I never would have fully recognized the extent of the indignities African-American boys and men face. Moreover, as indicated by research recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the cumulative physical toll this treatment takes on African-American men can accelerate the aging process and cause early death. Thus, no “special tax” on this population can be understood without recognizing that it does not exist as a small, isolated element in people’s lives.

What I Learned About Stop-and-Frisk From Watching My Black Son [Christopher E. Smith/The Atlantic]

(Image: stopfrisk_june17_DSC_1073, Michael Fleshman, CC-BY)

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  1. Well, the police forces of America are one of the few remaining places where racists, homophobes etc. can violently exercise their bigotry without punishment.

    In a social, business or academic setting, there are repercussions. You can't just lay the beatdown on somebody for their color, religion, gender identity or whatever it is you hate, other citizens will be able to exercise ongoing negative feedback against you even if the law lets you walk.

    But cops, they can murder people in cold blood and get away without a day of prison time - and they can take revenge on anyone who doesn't want to let them get away with it. So of course the profession attracts people with these propensities. What was it Diehls said? Something like "by creating a use for men who could exercise brutality without remorse, we not only attracted sadists, we created them?" Something along those lines.

    If we held police to higher moral standards than other citizens - rather than lower - perhaps this could be reversed. But right now the system encourages it.

  2. xzzy says:

    10 to 3? A 1 to 1 ratio would be sufficient to kill the policy. You mess with white privilege and it's gonna be on the news instantly.

  3. It's worth emphasizing that only 3% of stop-and-frisk arrests lead to convictions ... and only 6% of stop-and-frisk incidents lead to arrests. So if my maths is correct, that's only .18% of stop-and-frisks that lead to convictions, most for non-violent crimes. That's fewer than 1 in 500 stop-and-frisks.

    Of course, it's been clearly shown that the justice system is structurally biased against the same people who are most likely to be stop-and-frisked, so even that low conviction rate is higher than the number who are actually guilty.

  4. When I read this the other day, my first thought was that people on Wall Street in business suits are exactly the people that should be getting stopped and frisked.

  5. Oh Jesus Fucking Christ. I did not get a kick out of that site at all

    Here are some comments on news articles about the recent homeless man shot in New Mexico:

    Having mental problems is no excuse for not following orders. I've arrested schizophrenics before who followed my orders to the letter. Boyd clearly intended to die that day.

    Personally I believe this was a good shoot based solely upon the video. The same people condemning this and saying it was not justified have NEVER been in that situation....EVER. They cry about the needs etc of this man and his mental disorders, who needed to be in a hospital or like mental ward, not living off the land in the Arizona foothills.

    This is what happens when you bring a knife to a gun fight. Cops = 1, Perp = 0

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