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Stop, Frisk, And Fruitvale Station

I’ve been pretty active and vocal about my support of Bill de Blasio’s candidacy to become the next mayor of New York. My primary reason for supporting de Blasio is my desire to end stop and frisk, although I also agree with most of his platform.

Stop and frisk is something that I encounter every day, even though I’ve never stopped or frisked. I live in Harlem, and I work and play downtown. Trust me when I tell you that even though I’m usually on this small island, I feel like I routinely cross a border between different cities. Two cities that I’m actually very familiar with because I grew up in the bay area in California. I spent a lot of time in San Francisco. I also spent a fair amount of time in Oakland, going to concerts and having chicken and waffles on the way to Berkley.

Oakland and San Francisco represent a perfect parallel to the two cities that are Manhattan. Everybody knows about Oakland and how incredibly volatile a place it is. Oakland is stuck in this endless loop of racial discord and violence, where it’s impossible to tell who “the good guys” are. We’ve all seen the videos of how the police treated the peaceful protestors of Occupy Wall Street. We also saw that the Occupy Oakland protestors were among the very few in the world who had some vandals among them. The racial tensions in Oakland are so bad that there are literally no “good guys” left.

The cops are no better than the “thugs”. This isn’t a situation that happened overnight. It’s a product of institutional racism and the anger over that racism. Oakland cops are vicious. I don’t mean hyperbolically vicious, I mean vicious. They’re not incidentally vicious, they’re institutionally vicious meaning it’s not a situation where there are a few bad apples. They’re trained to be vicious. They’re taught that young black men are the enemy, and that they need to always keep a close eye on the enemy. And that “close eye” they keep on the enemy makes everyone (but especially young black men) distrust and hate them. So we have a situation where the citizens and the cops have been, perhaps irrevocably, divided.When you treat a group of people like they’re not legitimate members of the community, they eventually “check out” of the community and they’re then blamed for not being part of the community. It’s an endless cycle that’s destructive to everyone involved.

And since the cops in Oakland routinely find the criminal activity they’re looking for, their training is validated. Young black men are bad. That experience on the job eventually seeps into one’s psyche and produces a genuinely racist police force. You eventually see all black men as criminals and they in turn, see the police as armed bullies. We all saw this dynamic play out at Fruitvale Station in 2009.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoD-PbbUPYQ[/youtube]

 

The same thing is starting to entrench itself in Manhattan. Our policemen have been trained to seek out young minority men for extra scrutiny for nearly 12 years now. That training is starting to seep into their psyche. I’m honestly starting to see something that I didn’t see ten years ago, when I moved here. Until about a month ago, a day never went by when I didn’t see someone being stopped. To be clear, I’ve literally never seen a white person stopped. I’ve also never seen someone stopped south of 96th Street. It’s always young men or boys of color, and it’s always in my neighborhood in Harlem. And in my neighborhood in Harlem, you never call the cops for anything because cops are not our friends. The situation wasn’t this bad when I moved up here 9 years ago. The tension is now palpable, and it’s getting worse. Last week, there was an incident involving two young Muslim girls. Here are details from ThinkProgress;

Last week, a family claimed New York Police Department discrimination against Muslims took a violent turn when police officers allegedly beat two sisters, ages 12 and 14, who were wearing hijabs, or headscarves. The girls, Lamis Chapman and Khalia Wilson, were playing in a park in Bronx, NY at around 9:30 pm. when officers told them the park was closed. As the officers followed the girls out, they reportedly threw Lamis and Khalia to the ground, held them in chokeholds, and ripped off their hijabs. And when their 15-year-old brother ran to help, he said the cops, “charged me, picked me up, and slammed me on the floor.”

“I kept saying, ‘I’m 14! What are you doing? We’re not bad kids,’” Khalia said later.

According to the NY Daily News, the entire confrontation was captured on video by a college student, Johnathan Harris, who says he was punched and pepper-sprayed by the cops. Harris said the officer told him “Come here, you little motherfucker. You like recording?”

The situation is escalating, and it needs to stop soon. You’ve jumped the shark when you can’t tell the difference between young girls and a threat to society. It can’t go on now that the whole world is aware of it. If it continues through this level of scrutiny and awareness, it will never end. And with no end in sight, I’m worried that we’re going to become Oakland. Five years ago, I would never have thought twice about walking the two blocks home from the subway after midnight. I’m not as comfortable now.

Stop and frisk is not making me safer. The truth is that there’s no evidence that it’s making anyone safer. Ray Kelly and Mike Bloomberg keep saying it’s making us safer, but they have yet to produce any evidence to support this claim. They keep pointing to lower crime rates in New York, and insist that we have stop and frisk to thank for this. But the fact of the matter is that crime rates in New York, and in the country at large were going down steadily for ten years before Kelly and Bloomberg. Until somebody shows me some concrete evidence that stop and frisk works, and that it’s not causing the racially charged time bomb I see every day, I’m done with it.

One of the moderators of the mayoral debate last night asked all of the candidates if they would reconsider their stances on stop and frisk (they all claim they’re against it as it stands, but some are more against it than others) if crime started to go up after they modified (or ended) the program. They all gave the wrong answer. They all answered “no”. That is categorically the wrong answer. If crime starts in increase, you have to look at every possible reason for that increase. That includes stop and frisk. I’m not completely tunnel visioned into believing that this program doesn’t work. I just don’t need to revisit my position that it needs to end, until I see some evidence that it helps in any way.

I honestly believe that electing either of the two candidates (Quinn and Thompson) that aren’t willing to articulate specific changes they would make to the program will have disastrous results for New York. I don’t want to see Manhattan turn into Oakland. And I honestly believe that making huge, demonstrable changes like firing Ray Kelly is the only way to avert that scenario.

Bill de Blasio is the only viable candidate who plans on doing exactly that. I am concerned for my safety, and I don’t believe that continuing stop and frisk is good for my own self interest.

 

 

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