Reflections on the Stop and Frisk Policy…..

 The Crowd Was Vociferous in Denunciation of Police

Will Our Communities be Safer Without It?

As I stood beneath the imposing statue of Duke Ellington at the intersection of 110th St. and Fifth Avenue a few weeks ago, watching the swelling crowd begin their Silent March down Fifth Avenue to 79th Street, protesting the Stop and Frisk policy of the NYPD, I wondered if we would really be better off without it. Listening to snatches of anti-police diatribes, uttered by well-meaning people, I thought of the nihilistic gun wielding criminals who are turning or communities into free fire zones and reflected on Frederick Douglass’s opening remarks from his 1875 speech on the Washington Mall; where he dedicated the Freedman’s Memorial to Abraham Lincoln.

“I am here today only because I will not have it said that the colored man is a man that can show no gratitude,” Douglass said as he damned the object of veneration he had been called to celebrate with faint praise.  He went on to say “Truth is beautiful and proper at all times and in all places.”

My sentiments exactly! I had to be at the march because I couldn’t let others demand justice for black men and I not stand with them.  And when thinking about what I should say regarding the great Silent March to end the Mayor’s “Stop and Frisk” policy,  Like Douglass, I decided to tell the truth as I see it….even if it goes over like a lead balloon with the crowd.

The truth is that I have misgivings about ending the program; because it is an incontestable fact that that the greatest danger to black men comes from gun wielding black male criminals; not white policemen, or even the armed white racist militia types who like to parade around dressed in combat camouflage fatigues, wielding guns and selling woff tickets.

While the critics contend that black and Hispanic communities are selected based on racist criteria, Mayor Bloomberg insists that communities are chosen for Stop and Frisk programs based on the incidence of gun violence and robberies committed at gunpoint.  And that the purpose of the program is to protect the law abiding citizens in those communities against murderous criminals.

The Mayor’s remarks were greeted with enthusiastic applause by the congregations of black churches – located in crime ridden Brooklyn communities where the stop and frisk program is in full effect -when he said the program should be “mended not ended.” The numbers support the Mayors argument about how targeted communities are selected.  For instance stop and frisk exist in mostly black Brownsville and not in mostly white Bay Ridge, because gun violence in Brownsville is 18 times higher than in Bay Ridge.

Just yesterday there was a march in Brooklyn protesting the shooting of a three year old boy who was caught in the crossfire between two gun wielding maniacs. However the purpose of mass demonstrations is to present demands to authorities who have the power to grant redress, or appeal to the conscience of your oppressor.  Which begs the question: who was yesterday’s demonstration addressed to: the conscience of gun wielding criminals?

If so…well, good luck with that.  To me it is the definition of a fool’s errand.  I am convinced that the criminals watch these demonstrations on TV and only cheer the calls for ending Stop and Frisk because it makes it easy for them to prey aon the rest of us.   The are singing “Happy Days are here Again” while polishing their guns! I understand that there are real questions regarding abuse of authority by police that must be addressed; yet it is a far less evil than having murderous maniacs running amuck in my neighborhood.   Alas, I agree with the Mayor: Mend it don’t end it!

And how shall we mend it?  Well, let us consider the issues raised by the Stop and Frisk program.  At the end of the day, after all the grievances have been aired, it boils down to two issues: the lack of courtesy and professionalism on the part of white cops, much of which is fueled by racist attitudes, and the procedure violates the constitutional rights of law abiding men who are going about their business and have committed no offense that would warrant police action against them.  Both are reasonable complaints that go to the heart of our rights as citizens.  But that is only a part of the story.

The problem that the police are asked to manage is no walk in the park.  These neighborhoods are in an undeclared state of emergency, where gun casualties exceed those in Afghanistan and Iraq at the height of the wars there.  A young black man has a greater chance of dying by gunfire at the hands of a gun wielding black male criminal than an American soldier on the front lines of two wars!  This is the real shame and outrage; the murderous internecine war raging in black communities across this nation.

In view of this fact a really racist program would be to just ignore this situation and say “Let the dumb niggers do the rest of us a favor and wipe each other out!  Why spend good tax money to save niggers when it could be put to much more productive use.” Then adopt an aggressive campaign of harassing black men whenever they leave predominantly black areas.  The fact of the matter is that the police have been placed into a war zone where a protracted low intensity war is going on and without their presence chaos would ensue!   These are the cold facts of the matter.

I have friends who go crazy and foam at the mouth whenever this issue is discussed and I point these things out and say I am not in favor of ending the Stop and Frisk program.  They are engaging in self-deception alas; since they know these things are true and that they are constantly looking over their shoulder when walking the streets of the hood late at night – if they still live in the hood – and they are afraid for the women and elderly in their families. And if they have any brains they want to keep their kids out of most schools in the hood, where the little thugs who are always angry because their incompetent parents have neglected or abused them, or both, will not only prevent them from learning but pose a danger to their physical safety.

When my children were going up in New York me and their mother decided whether we would continue to live in New York, a city we dearly love, based on what schools we could get our kids into!  And although we did manage to get them into great schools – we wanted them to go to public schools because based upon what I had seen of the psychological damage to black children and even working class whites who attend ritzy private schools, I thought the cure was worse than the disease – every morning I worried about their safety going to and from school.  We even plotted special routes for them.

And it was not the white policemen on the beat that worried me: It was the black thugs and criminals!   I told my children the police are their friends and if they had any problem go immediately to the first policeman they see and tell them.  I regard anybody who tell their children anything different as a moron and an incompetent parent! The bottom line with me on this question is that I don’t think fostering hatred and suspicion of all policemen is good for the law abiding black community trying to go about their business and lead a normal life.  The only element in the black community this paranoid hatred of the police favors are the criminals…all of whom become “political prisoners” once they are incarcerated.

Just consider the “don’t snitch” code that has become so pervasive in black urban communities; who does this idea favor?  Consider the meaning of this idea.  I am supposed to watch a criminal assault my neighbor, break into their house, rape their wife or daughter, and refuse to report them to the police?  This is a prescription for chaos not community; it is the antithesis of civilization…it is barbarism.

There is no end to the horror stories of gun violence in black communities.  Just recently I was sitting here writing when suddenly I heard a burst of gunfire, then looked out of my window and discovered corpses lying on the pavement.  And I just heard gunfire outside my window as I’m writing this commentary.  It’s about 5: o-clock in the morning and I heard my neighbor leave about ten minutes before; which would give him time to get down on the street.  I’m hoping he wasn’t the victim.   There are law abiding black citizens in cities all over the county who face similar anxieties about gun violence every day.  It’s everywhere!

The Crime Scene at My Front Door
These cups mark the spot where two men murdered

A distinguished black journalist in Philadelphia told me he had guns pointed in his face three times in a week because the other motorist didn’t think he got off the light fast enough.  A dear friend is grieving over his four year old grandson who was shot through the head while playing in front of his Camden New Jersey home when two maniacs started shooting at each other while children were in the line of fire. And my brother-in-law told me about friends of his being robbed at gunpoint in two different nightclubs last Saturday night in Harrisburg PA, when armed robbers took over the club and fleeced everybody.  There are stories like this everywhere, just check out the recent documentary movie on gun violence in the black community in Chicago.

As bad as things are with gun violence in certain New York neighborhoods it is less than New Orleans, Chicago, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Oakland, and several other cities.  And one could make a persuasive argument that the stop and frisk program accounts for the difference.  Hence ending this program may well spare black and Hispanic men the sense of embarrassment and harassment that many feel when subjected to stop and frisk, but it won’t save their lives.  For nobody supports ending stop and frisk more than the gun toting criminals.

In view of the fact that we are living in war zones the constitutional arguments against the stop and frisk program leaves me cold.  During the American Civil War Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of Habeus Corpus, a basic constitutional protection that requires the government to formally state their charges against you within 72 hours after arrest. This allows your lawyer to argue for dismissal, or bail at arraignment.  Absent this protection the government can detain you in jail indefinitely.  When “The Great Emancipator” was accused of subverting the Constitution he famously replied: “The constitution is not a suicide pact!”

However the constitutional question could be nullified by declaring a state of emergency in certain cities – a measure I once called for in my neighborhood in a Village Voice cover story during the crack plague of the 1980’s, when my children were little kids – which I think would be far worse than Stop and Frisk.  Since I am not in favor of ending Stop and Frisk” how shall we mend it?   Lets address the question of police behavior and abuse of authority by power drunk or racist cops.  This problem could be ameliorated by filming all Stop and Frisk incidents.

The cameras can be mounted in the cars, and policeman on the beat should be required to wear small cameras on their bodies.  This would insure the “professionalism and courtesy” the NYPD says it is committed to. In view of the reign of terror presently being conducted by black criminals in black communities all over this nation, this is a far superior alternative to the terminating this program.  This is why I say without equivocation: Mend it don’t end it!

Well meaning….but misguided?

The gunmen love this! 


Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem,  New York

July 13, 2012


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