Grass Roots Advocacy and How it Killed Stop and Frisk


The recent Federal ruling agains the New York City Police Department’s much reviled stop and frisk policy is a textbook example of how united voices, hard work and some strategic funding can have a serious and profund impact on a problem. The New York Times did an excellent job of following the timeline of the story and it’s worth reading. But what really matters is that in our age of fear, institutional racism, big money and power politics, speaking out, when organized and directed, can still work.

New York City has always been a city of sharp divides between the rich and poor, the different neighborhoods, races and groups. As the city has become more economically bipolar, the call for safer streets from the wealthy and powerful was answered by their elected officials and the NYPD with tactics aimed at cutting down on street crime. The numbers tell it all. When reports on stop and frisk finally became public, they showed that a bit over half the stops were of black people and 31 percent were of Hispanics. But here’s the kicker: In nearly 90 percent of the cases, the person stopped wasn’t arrested or given a summons. And yet, year after year the stops increased and the NYPD reported improved crime statistics.

This is such an amazingly clear case of racial profiling, harassment at an epic level and institutional racism that it’s surprising that it took this long to be defeated. Of course you can never underestimate the power of fear and money when combined with racism and in a place like NYC, money always talks very loudly. It’s highly gratifying that this abusive policy has been publicly repudiated at a Federal level and that controls will be put in place to prevent a repeat. But it’s also sad to know that after all the struggles of the past, how far we still have to go to reach a place where the streets are safe for all citizens, but just rich white ones and that the police are there to protect all citizens, not just rich white ones.

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