NEW YORK — June 17, 2012. While thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets on Sunday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg addressed a Brooklyn church saying that his Stop And Frisk policy needed “reform” — but can a policy widely regarded as racist be reformed?
On Sunday thousands of New Yorkers, including labor unions and the NAACP, joined a march that traveled across 110 Street and down Fifth Avenue, along Central Park’s eastern edge. The procession was a diverse group united in their opposition to the NYPD’s “Stop And Frisk” program that allows police to arbitrarily detain and search citizens. Statistically, “Stop And Frisk” targets Blacks and Latinos.
The march ended at 77 Street, near Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s apartment. The march was silent, at the request of the organizers who wanted an event that was dignified and disciplined. However, when the procession reached the mayor’s home, a small number of protesters began chanting. After allegedly defying police orders to disperse, nine protesters were arrested.
The sheer size of the silent procession, held on Father’s Day, underscored the widespread opposition to Stop And Frisk and NYPD spying on Muslims — two programs described by critics as racial profiling.
Racial and religious profiling have unfortunate historical precedents. If “Stop And Frisk” and NYPD spying are based on race or religious affiliation can these programs be made less problematic if the police are more courteous, as the mayor argues? Can an arbitrary procedure, conducted by armed individuals with arrest powers — targeting unarmed, often underage and frightened, individuals — be regarded as acceptable if the police are more polite? Can syntactical sugar sweeten what most regard as an offensive and humiliating experience?
Many of the signs carried by protesters in Sunday’s march compared Stop And Frisk to Jim Crow laws and law enforcement tactics. Could Jim Crow have been reformed to the point where it would be deemed acceptable? In legal terms, at what point does an arbitrary detention and search violate the Fourth Amendment? While the Constitution does not address the issue of courtesy it is seemingly straightforward on the issue of protection from “unreasonable search and seizure.”
About.com notes that, “The Fourth Amendment was written directly in response to British general warrants (called Writs of Assistance), in which the Crown would grant general search powers to British law enforcement officials. These officials could search virtually any home they liked, at any time they liked, for any reason they liked or for no reason at all.”
Prior to the march, the NAACP’s Hazel Dukes sent out an email with the subject line “Skin Color Is Not Probable Cause.” This statement seems a reasonable assertion to this observer — it seems self-evident. And no amount of artificial sweetener can alter this reality.