US Politics

Do Not Exaggerate Victory in New York Stop and Frisk Law

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

A small victory was gained, recently, in New York City, in the mostly losing battle against the methodical construction of a police state in Black America. And, although even small victories should be celebrated, one should not get carried away.

Earlier this month, the New York State legislature passed, and Governor David Paterson signed, a bill that would prevent police from using and keeping personal information gained in most of the nearly three million stop and frisks in New York City since 2004. Ninety percent of those stopped are non-white, and all but a small fraction have done nothing wrong, but the police department and the billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, claimed the fight against crime required that they keep the data on everyone who got caught up in their police dragnets. When lawmakers demanded to know how keeping records on the innocent is a legitimate crime-fighting tool, the cops came up with few, if any, convincing examples. But, of course, the logic of a police state is to keep records on everybody and, in a racist society that means hyper-surveillance of Blacks and browns. The cops lost that argument.

But that doesn’t mean the police lost the war that they wage daily against people of color on the streets of New York. Last week, the Amsterdam News, a local Black newspaper, asked Governor Paterson how we could be sure that the police were actually going to throw away the data on the innocent people stopped by police—about half a million instances last year, alone. The governor replied that no one had ever asked him that question. He clearly didn’t have an answer, and said he “would assume that police would comply.” That’s one hell of an assumption! The fact is the legislation has no enforcement mechanism to make sure the cops obey the law. In the end, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights will likely wind up going back into court to ensure compliance.

Remember, the massive stop and frisk practice remains in place. It is designed to create an environment of fear and intimidation in Black and brown New York. It tells non-whites that the cops can reach out and touch you any time they choose, for any fictitious reason they conjure up. It is built on a foundation of police lies about “suspicious” behavior—which is why the vast majority of those stopped are let go. The internal logic of the scheme is such that, the new prohibition against keeping records on those who are not charged is likely to encourage cops to become even more aggressive in their stop and frisks, to become even more physically and verbally provocative and then charge people with resisting police—to make up more lies in order to justify an arrest, which would allow them to legally use the data.

I can hear the police shift commanders now, urging their troops to make more arrests—not just stops.

So, here we have a small victory, for a small reform, that could potentially aggravate the larger crime: the daily denial of basic constitutional rights to the Black and brown people of New York.

The whole stop and frisk regime has to go. It is the cornerstone of a racist police state, and the intake valve of Black mass incarceration., July 27, 2010