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Stop and Frisk: A shameful policy that feeds oppression

Activist | , Nick Malinowski | , Stop Mass Incarceration Network | , Social Worker | 2/7/2012, 3:21 p.m.

Is stop and frisk better understood as an intentionally racist program aimed at removing jobs, housing and the voting franchise from people of color?

It is inaccurate to suggest that if a person is doing nothing wrong, that they have nothing to fear. As media reports have described, many of those arrested through stop and frisk were not guilty of any crime and should never have been arrested, yet most will carry the outcomes of that encounter with the police forever.

People of color are routinely arrested for disorderly conduct, obstructing government administration or resisting arrest for protesting stop and frisk when it occurs; they are arrested merely for asserting their constitutional rights to live free from police harassment, humiliation and violence. A policeman can throw a person to the ground without cause, but if that person makes an effort to protect themselves, they face bans from employment, housing, voting and a slew of other so-called civil rights.

The failure of the courts, the Civilian Complaint Review Board and internal NYPD processes to curb inappropriate activities by police officers or inappropriate department-wide policies empowers the police to act with the presumption of absolute impunity and leaves the public with no avenue for recourse. We cannot sell out those facing this persecution by taking the bait offered by the police that they are the only cure to crime, when in fact the NYPD, by all but eliminating the potential of 70,000 people a year to become gainfully employed, to find housing and to vote, is one of the most obvious crime creators in the city.

Despite this legacy, the NYPD has successfully criminalized young people of color, a useful cover-up that has been marinated and refreshed by the media and much of the citizenry.

It is indisputable that practices such as stop and frisk engender in the public a distrust of the NYPD in communities that are overwhelmed by overpolicing. Many people throughout New York would not consider calling the police if they had a problem. These practices contribute in a major way to the fracture of community cohesion, which experts and community members alike would agree is the true antidote to criminal behavior.

Any suggestion that the NYPD has any interest in stopping, not perpetuating, crime in certain neighborhoods must begin with the acknowledgement that the NYPD and its policies are part of this problem.

It is for these reasons and others that a "reform" of stop and frisk rings hollow and disingenuous and reflects a deep-seated racial apathy in the hearts of those who claim to desire this type of change. Any system of policing that includes stop and frisk, a consciously racist policy, shows a tremendous indifference toward the people who have had their human rights violated routinely by the NYPD.

Why would we want to live in a city where the intentional removal from society of certain people, strictly because of the color of their skin, was commonplace? How can we sleep at night knowing that it is? How can we continue to elect leaders who will not even acknowledge that the city has a wide-ranging police problem? We must grasp the urgency that this situation demands.

Today, in certain racially segregated neighborhoods around our city, young people are losing their human rights to participate in their government, to be employed, to find shelter and to otherwise live a life that includes basic freedoms exclusively because of the color of their skin. To demand anything other than the abolition of the stop and frisk policy is to send a deafening message to young people facing this reality every day: "We don't care about you."

Never in the history of struggle in this country have the powerful ceded their position willingly. It is incumbent upon those of us who believe everyone is entitled to basic human rights, and that the power of the state should not be used to continue the history of racial oppression in this country, to acknowledge what is happening, to stand up, to organize and to take what we know is right and leave the others with no option but to acquiesce.