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Friday, November 1, 2013

Stop and Frisk–A Good Policy

Much has been made of the controversial ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ policy adopted and strongly endorsed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  He has made a strong case that the practice of profiling potential criminals is an important and necessary tool in crime prevention.  
Bloomberg and others have argued that profiling makes sense when it targets groups that have high crime rates such as blacks and Hispanics.  Stop-and-frisk is no different from the longstanding practice of US Customs officials who develop profiles of smugglers; and whose targeting of high-risk travellers helps to rationalize scarce resources.
Some recent statistics bear out Bloomberg’s contention that certain groups are more responsible for crime than others.  For example, here are recent figures (2012 (Jan-June) New York City arrests by Race (City of New York) for Murder/Non-Negligent Manslaughter:

White: 11 percent (of all crimes committed)

Black: 55 percent

Hispanic: 29 percent

Following are similar statistics compiled from NYC records 2008 (Jan-June) New York City Crime Statistics by Race (from Yahoo News)

-83% of all gun assailants were black, while making up 24% of the population

-Blacks and Hispanics together accounted for 98% of all gun assailants

-49 of every 50 muggings and murders were carried out by blacks or Hispanics

-Blacks and Hispanics commit 96% of the crimes in New York, but include only 85% of those stopped during ‘stop and frisk’ incidents.

We all profile but do not like to admit it. We assess age, education, language, social status, race, ethnicity, dress, comportment, etc. etc. when hiring or vetting a potential husband or wife for our children. These indicators carry meaning. Human societies have always profiled as a means of self-preservation.  The outsider, the other, is always suspect until he can prove himself worthy of inclusion.  A stranger approaching a village will be assessed for all the attributes mentioned above.  The answers to the questions, “Do we know him?” and “Can we trust him?” can be found in speech, mannerisms, and dress.  If he conforms to village norms, he will be admitted; if not, he will be excluded.   On an even more primitive level, animals are programmed to recognize familiar traits – scent, color, size, and movement – and they will growl, peck, and bite those who do not belong.
It is therefore perfectly logical for a society, such as New York City, to act in the same way and to identify those outsiders who because of their anti-social behavior represent a threat. For the time being, these outsiders are blacks and Hispanics. However, once minorities adhere to majority norms and their communities at large are no different from the majority in terms of social behavior, profiling will make no sense and will stop.
There is no doubt that innocent people are adversely affected.  Totally blameless blacks and Hispanics are pulled over; but that is part of the natural, innate human instinct to classify and categorize. It would be more acceptable to identify individuals who are likely to commit crimes regardless of race or ethnicity.  The movie Minority Report is a fictional story about that eventuality.  In the future world of the film, the police do not have to profile because they have discovered a way to identify a criminal before he commits the crime. 
For now, however, innocent, blameless members of groups which are not so innocent have to pay; and it is the price for belonging – willingly or unwillingly – to these groups. Black people are not pulled over because of their race per se. They are pulled over because of their affiliation with a socially dysfunctional group which happens to be black.
All citizens have to pay some social costs, and blameless members of dysfunctional communities are no different.  Rather than rail against the practice of stop-and-frisk, however, they should call out their own brothers and sisters for continuing irresponsible behavior. Profiling is not the cause of community dysfunction.  It is a logical reaction to it. In other words, don’t blame the messenger.
Minority communities must eventually face facts and accept responsibility for their own behavior.  Street creds should be devalued as community currency.  Macho manhood and single motherhood disparaged. Bling, show, and pimp posturing ridiculed. Hustle, gaming, and slick moves marginalized. Act white? Hell yes, since ‘white’ cultural norms have been the hallmark of all successful societies forever.  Honesty, respect, discipline, attainment, work, fidelity, compassion, and individual responsibility have been precepts guiding social behavior since the Greeks if not well before.

In an ideal society profiling would not exist because all people and groups would be equal.  There would be no economic or social inequities based on race or ethnicity.  We would all be a nice, creamy, brown color and no distinctions other than on proven ability would matter.  Until that time, classifying, identifying, and approving others on the basis of group characteristics, both good and bad, will continue.

In any case Mayor Bloomberg is leaving office and ultra-‘progressive’ William De Blasio, a defiant opponent of stop-and-frisk will soon be elected and sworn in. He has vowed to repeal stop-and-frisk as one of his first mayoral acts. The NYPD and its supporters will not take the reversal quietly, and the issue will go back to the courts.  An initial lower court has ruled against stop-and-frisk, but in the last few days a federal appeals court has overturned it, so the practice is still alive and kicking.

Whatever the outcome, the debate should have collateral benefits.  The NSA, for example, would be in far less hot water if it had spied selectively – that is, if it had profiled selectively instead of poking into everyone’s business.

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