‘I was stop-and-frisked by the NYPD more than 100 times’

‘I was stop-and-frisked by the NYPD more than 100 times’

The New York Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, as Keeshan describes in the first two minutes of The Guardian’s video ‘I was stop-and-frisked by the NYPD more than 100 times,’ entails the stopping of random individuals, often without any basis besides being black of Latino, and a search for possession of any contraband, such as drugs or weapons.  Though the NYPD claims that the program has been effective in reducing crime, as NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly described in his statement that “[Stop-and-Frisk] is a program that is effective… you used to not be able to walk down the streets of this city safely and today you can walk every neighborhood during the day and most neighborhoods at night,” [1] the truth is that, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), “88 percent of stops – more than 3.8 million – were of innocent New Yorkers,” indicating that there most definitely isn’t a significant improvement in terms of crime being detected because of this program.  There are many layers to this situation, both why it occurs and why it has such a drastic effect on the population it impacts.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the racial profiling taking place with this policy is that it is reminiscent of a time that the majority of Americans believe to be in the distant past: a time when racial segregation was the norm, and was neither taboo nor illegal.  Even in a time when this was the case, Atticus, the lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird, recognizes and lectures that this is not the truth.  Following an explanation of the contradictory explanation of the motivations of the Ewell’s, who are prosecuting Tom Robinson for his supposed crime, Atticus says, “’You, [the jury], know the truth, and the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women—black or white.  But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men’” (Ch. #20).  Its failure to recognize this, as indicated by the vastly disproportionate number of African American victims of this policy, puts the NYPD in the highly negative position of doing something that has been considered morally wrong for over half a century now.  This is why the practice must end.

The further problem that is caused for African American and Latino youth is that being subjected to such inherent injustice causes them to lose hope for success to the point of equality in their lifetimes.  They come to believe that this injustice is simply reality, and that there’s no reasonable way to escape it, so there’s no reason to try.  Keeshan, towards the beginning of the video, explains the situation of how it’s entirely up to chance whether, even after being proven innocent after a search, the police will just let you go, or arrest and detain you, necessitating the further action of suing the police upon release.  This, again, is the outdated concept that Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird describes as the reason Tom Robinson ended up trying to escape from Enfield Prison Farm and was killed in the process: “’I told him what I thought, but I couldn’t in truth say that we had more than a good chance [to win the trial].  I guess Tom was tired of white men’s chances and preferred to take his own’” (Ch. #24).  Not only is it morally wrong for the government to put a group of people into a position like this, but it has the potential to worsen the position from what it already is by, to a degree, encouraging crime and rebellion.  Of course, it is this same mentality that has the potential to bring change, but this change can’t happen without help from the outside world.

The most important aspect of what is described above having such a large impact on the victims of the policy is that those being exposed to it are young, and due to its frequency in these communities, children are exposed to the idea from an even younger age.  Children, without significant outside influence, develop an idea of morality that is based in logic and thus equality.  This is best demonstrated by Jem’s reaction after the Maycomb jury rules Tom Robinson to be guilty, despite the overwhelming evidence otherwise.  He repeatedly says, “’It ain’t right’” (Ch. #22).  Nevertheless, should the reality that these children are exposed to be excessively demonstrative of contrary qualities, these ideas stick with them much more, and become the reality that they perceive.  They are unable to escape from this because they haven’t learned how to or what to escape to.  It seems that the result of the policy is the emphasis of an intimidation-based system of preventing social and economic movement.

The key to instigating change when it comes to the stop-and-frisk policy is to share the clear violation of the rights of innocent citizens with the rest of the world.  How does one accomplish this, you ask?  Well, by doing what most middle-class Americans do anyway: take pictures, shoot videos, share with the international community via the Internet (Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter).  The key is to gain awareness for the problem, then allow then make the change happen by using the entire world’s support.  As Atticus puts it in his closing statement for Tom Robinson’s trials for the rape of Mayella Ewell, “In this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal” (Ch. #20).  This truth about the purpose of the American justice system is unfortunately repudiated by the lack of equality in this situation and the apparent attempts to un-level the playing field for all men in law by discriminating against black and Latino men and putting them in a situation of being suspect for crimes for no apparent reason besides their race.  This is wrong and the majority of the world recognizes that.  Technology today more than ever allows any person on the planet to do as Atticus repeatedly suggests: “stand in [another man’s] shoes and walk around in them” (Ch. #31), and the result is that people thousands of miles away can come to identify with the injustice being presented to others.  If they all come together, even just once, to let the NYPD know this, change will inevitably take place, and New York City will become a better place to live for all people.

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