New York City has the infamous distinction of being the place where a black person is most likely to be stopped by the police for no lawful reason. Using vague criteria such as “furtive movement” or “bulge in clothing,” in 2011 the NYPD stopped 700,000 people innocently going about their business in the city streets. Most were people of color, 55% black and 30% Latino. Only 6% of those encounters resulted in arrests, and guns were discovered in only 0.15% of these instances. These statistics prove that this NYPD policy constitutes a clear case of racial profiling and does nothing to keep the public safe.
In the wake of the Occupy protests, an anti stop-and-frisk movement has taken direct action in protest. In addition, the Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a lawsuit against the City of New York, Floyd v. City of New York, in an effort to have the courts declare stop and frisk policies unconstitutional.
Lawsuits and non-violent protests are critical if stop and frisks are to end, but ultimately, a change at the very top of New York City’s government will be needed. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police commissioner Raymond Kelly continue their strong support for the practice, and have given no indication that it will change in any way during the rest of Bloomberg’s term, which ends with a new election in November 2013.
This nearly two year long election season is an opportunity to bring this policy to an end. There are currently five announced or presumed candidates who are considered serious contenders for the mayoralty. All five are current or former office holders with citywide name recognition, but none has made a definitive statement on stop and frisk. They say it is wrong, or they will look at it, or recalibrate it, or ask panels of experts to weigh in, but not one of the five has said that the practice will end if they were in charge at City Hall.
The candidates are reluctant to declare a change because of fear and cynicism. The continuing drop in violent crime makes them reluctant to change what is a sure vote getting issue. Worse, they can take advantage of unspoken racism and give white voters an assurance that harassment of black people will not go away. If they continue to gauge the political winds at the expense of the black and Latino civil liberties, the voters must give them a clear direction.
Simply put, stop and frisk should be the deal breaking issue for black and Latino voters and all people of conscience in 2013. No candidate should get votes from these constituencies without an unequivocal promise to end this practice. Politics as usual will not do. It shouldn’t matter who endorses whom, or whom the big shot preachers or prestigious people support.
Political deal making will be the order of the day in an election year, and the masses of people will surely be left out unless they occupy those smoke filled rooms. The silver lining will be that the scoundrels will show themselves. The people and organizations that break ranks and work against the interests of the nearly one million people whose rights are violated should earn the dubious distinction of being ignored on election day in 2013.
The arguments against making stop and frisk an issue worth fighting over will be many. Candidates will curry favor with the “misleadership class” who will promote personal interest over that of the people they claim to represent. If there were ever an issue for which there should be no compromise, stop and frisk is it. No one should get black voter support because they promise good jobs to the right people, or show up at the right events in Harlem or Bedford-Stuyvesant.
The question put to every candidate should be a simple one. “Will you end stop and frisk?” If no one responds with a clear and unequivocal “yes” then none of these people should get black votes. There are always alternatives to the Republicans and Democrats, and the fear of a Democratic loss shouldn’t soften anyone’s resolve to end this modern day Jim Crow tactic.
There should always be bright lines of demarcation and positions about which there can be no wavering. If former New York City Democratic mayor Ed Koch can endorse a Republican congressional candidate as a protest against what he thinks are anti-Israeli policies, then black people should be able to do the same to defend their constitutionally mandated citizenship rights. The 2013 mayoral election should be the last time that black New Yorkers are taken for granted, and the first time there is solidarity around an issue which impacts them all.