Stop-and-Frisk Is Immoral and Illegitimate—
Don’t Mend It. End It!


After weeks of testimony by victims of New York City’s Stop-and-Frisk who filed the federal lawsuit, Floyd v. City of New York, the judge who heard the case issued a ruling on August 12 finding that the city of New York “adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling.”

And that the “city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner.” It found that “Blacks are likely targeted for stops based on a lesser degree of objectively founded suspicion than whites.” And the judge ruled that the pretexts used by police to stop Black and Latino people were unjustified: “The outline of a commonly carried object such as a wallet or cell phone does not justify a stop or frisk, nor does feeling such an object during a frisk justify a search.”

The judge’s ruling cites the “human toll of unconstitutional stops,” noting that some of the plaintiffs testified that their encounters with the police left them feeling that they did not belong in certain areas of the city. And it characterized each stop as “a demeaning and humiliating experience.”

All this vindicates what millions know to be true.

But the ruling does not end stop-and-frisk. Since the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police can stop and frisk people without what had always been defined as “reasonable cause.” The judge’s ruling states, “To be very clear, I am not ordering an end to the practice of stop-and-frisk.” What this court ruling does is designate an outside attorney to monitor the Police department, along with other policies like community meetings—to solicit public input on how to reform stop-and-frisk.

Three points on all this:

First of all, let’s tell the truth: stop-and-frisk is nothing but apartheid—nothing but a practice that singles out one group of people (Black and brown-skinned people) for illegal and illegitimate repressive practices solely for the color of their skin. People knew this before the suit, and the suit performed the valuable service of making this absolutely undeniable. It came out that 100,000’s of people were stopped and frisked by the NYPD every year. More than 85 percent of them were Black or Latino, AND more than 90 percent of them were doing absolutely nothing wrong. Yet they ended up being subjected to humiliation, harassment, brutality, arrest and sometimes worse under Stop and Frisk. Why set up a process to reform a policy this fucked up instead of just getting rid of it?

Further Stop-and-Frisk is just one practice in a whole set of policies—the New Jim Crow, for short—that were developed to criminalize Black and Latino youth on a massive and indeed genocidal scale, at a time when this capitalist system could no longer profitably exploit them in the same way that they had been and when that system therefore had no real future for millions and tens of millions of these youth, and thus wanted and needed to keep these millions and tens of millions of  people in check—penned in, locked up, and killed off.

Second, the main reason that this suit was allowed into court and given the coverage that it had was that there are forces among the powers-that-be that are seriously worried about how practices like this make America look—both “at home” and to other countries. Here is a system that claims to be the most democratic on earth that at the same time leads the world in mass imprisonment, and mass imprisonment which so disproportionately targets Black and Latino people that—along with things like torture, indefinite detention (Guantanamo, for example on both counts) and other severely repressive measures which violate international norms—makes its democratic pretensions little more than a sour joke all over the world. And here is a system at home whose defenders have vocally expressed concern that the very peoples targeted by stop-and-frisk will lose their belief in the system’s legitimacy—that is, the RIGHT of the system to rule over them.

In addition, the struggle waged by Stop Mass Incarceration Network—including civil disobedience actions where Cornel West and myself, and many others, were jailed—along with other protests and actions had an important role in raising mass awareness of how intolerable this practice is and how urgent it is to resist it.

There are also forces in the ruling class who demand stop-and-frisk continue as is, including New York City Mayor Bloomberg who denounced the ruling. They are frothing at the mouth at this ruling. If the city of New York appeals this decision, or if a higher level of federal court agrees to hear an appeal, that would be outrageous and unacceptable.

Third, there is a serious contradiction in the judge’s ruling. How can you conclude that something is “unconstitutional” and constitutes racial profiling—and then decide that it should only be modified? No! If it’s unconstitutional, you got to get rid of the damn thing. Unless what you’re really saying is this: that America cannot even extend the most basic constitutional rights to the tens of millions of Black people and Latinos and Native Americans and other oppressed nationalities because it would mean that the rulers of America would not be able to exercise their dictatorship as nakedly as they want to and believe they need to.

And yet this is the inescapable conclusion: that for all the talk about democracy and constitutional rights, whenever it comes to any important issue—and particularly when this issue concerns those groups who have been held down and exploited and oppressed in the most vicious and brutal ways since the founding of this country—this country is at heart a dictatorship exercised by the capitalist-imperialists in the interests of the capitalist-imperialists. You can see this right now at work in the heroic struggle against torture being waged by prisoners in California, as well as in what is coming to light thanks to revelations of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden—for which they are being viciously persecuted.

To come at it from a different angle, the truth about America can still be seen in the very language first used in the Dred Scott decision upholding the fugitive Slave Act before the Civil War, but also applied as recently in the acquittal of George Zimmerman—Black people have no rights that a white man is bound to respect.

Such a system cries out for revolution—for this and a whole host of other reasons–as soon as possible, and it requires as well the sharpest possible struggle uniting many millions of people against its outrages, including continuing the struggle to get rid of stop-and-frisk and the whole program of the New Jim Crow.

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