Revolution #269, May 20, 2012

The Real Problem With Stop-and-Frisk—
and the Real Solution

Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide!

The mass incarceration of millions of people in this country—the majority of whom are Black and Latino—is a concentration of what this capitalist-imperialist system is doing overall to Black people and constitutes a slow genocide that could easily accelerate.

Millions are locked up in prison; millions more are on probation or parole, and then there is the devastating effect this has not only on those imprisoned but on their friends and loved ones. Tens of thousands are kept in conditions of solitary confinement that constitute torture. There is the disproportionate use of the death penalty against Blacks and Latinos. Every year, hundreds of thousands stopped and frisked by the NYPD, overwhelmingly Black and Latino people, the vast majority doing nothing illegal. An epidemic of police murder and brutality against people of color.

The cause of all this? The workings and conscious policy of a capitalist-imperialist system that has exploited Black people from day one—first through slavery, then sharecropping, and then confinement to the lowest-paying, most dangerous and dirtiest factory jobs. But now, because of major changes in the global economy, this system no longer has a way to profitably exploit Black people, has no future for this entire section of society, and seeks to impose a counter-insurgency in advance of the insurgency. The rulers of this country—who remember the powerful role of the Black liberation struggles of the 1960s—want to crush sections of society before they are able to rise up.

Last year, the New York Police Department stopped and frisked nearly 685,000 people. 87 percent were Black or Latino. About 90 percent were released without being charged with any crime. These statistics tell a story; but they don’t tell the story of the effect on the people themselves, walking down the street and suddenly jumped on by a gang of cops, handled and humiliated—if it doesn’t escalate into something worse—with the clear intent and effect of humiliation. These statistics point to something, but in themselves they don’t show how this is part of a process of stigmatization of an oppressed people... of putting many into a pipeline for imprisonment... and of setting in place a “slow” genocide that could easily escalate into something even worse. (See box: Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide!)

People are beginning to stand up and fight against this. Last week, 20 people were found guilty of “crimes” associated with taking action to stop this. Other trials for other actions against this racist practice are scheduled to begin soon. Anger is growing; people are looking for ways to resist this.

Into this situation have stepped a number of politicians and reformers. Some are calling for “reducing” stop-and-frisk. Bill de Blasio, the “public advocate” of the City of New York City and wannabe candidate for mayor of New York, says that stop-and-frisk is a “valid tool,” but that “its increasing use has been ‘corrosive’ to community relations with the police.... ‘We can’t have the social fabric continuing to be torn,’ Mr. de Blasio said, adding that the high number of stops, particularly among young black and Latino residents, has made many New Yorkers uncomfortable and distrustful of the police officers who patrol their neighborhoods. ‘It’s breaking down something very fundamental here,’ Mr. de Blasio added.” (“Public Advocate to Call for Audit of Stop-and-Frisk Tactic”, New York Times, May 9, 2012.)

Yes, Mr. de Blasio, in one sense you are right—stop-and-frisk is indeed “breaking down something very fundamental.” It is breaking down the legitimacy of the state; that is, it is breaking down people’s belief that the police and law are neutral and serve everyone, and that when the police use force they have a right to do so. And the more that people resist this, and the more this resistance is part of forcing the truth out about what these laws and cops are REALLY serving, the more this is true. Many defendants at last week’s trial linked stop-and-frisk to the whole history of white supremacist oppression in this country; some linked that white supremacy to capitalism itself, and talked about the need to sweep this whole system away. People at the trial saw with their own eyes that the system’s justifications for this practice are utterly without any moral claim to right, and that even this system’s own prosecutors and judges cannot defend this. And most at the trial became even more fired up and convinced of the need to mobilize people against this. But that’s not a problem; matter of fact, the fact that this resistance is “breaking down something very fundamental here” (that is, the legitimacy of this system) is a good thing, and long overdue—and something we need a lot more of!

So, no, the problem, Mr. de Blasio, is NOT that stop-and-frisk is “corrosive to community relations with the police.” And no, Mr. de Blasio, stop-and-frisk is NOT a “valid tool.” It is a very vicious and illegitimate tool, and a key tool in the whole policy of mass incarceration of Black people and other oppressed people, a policy that is genocidal.

And the solution, Mr. de Blasio, does not lie in electing either you or anyone else to be mayor, promising new wine in the same old bottles. People have done that for generations and it has not changed anything fundamental. The solution lies in sweeping away a system that suckled on the blood of generations of slaves as its “mother’s milk,” that then fattened on the super-exploitation of African-Americans first as sharecroppers and then as proletarians who were confined by custom and often by law to the lowest and most exploited rungs of the workforce, that today finds itself unable to offer any kind of future to millions and tens of millions of the descendants of those generations and so has developed this new form of oppression: mass incarceration. Just a few weeks ago, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in a report on how Black ex-prisoners are discriminated against both as former prisoners and as African-Americans, noted that it is likely that 1 out of 3 Black men will spend time in prison in the course of their lifetimes (compared to 1 out of 17 white men)! (“Equal Opportunity Panel Updates Hiring Policy,” New York Times, April 25, 2012.) What does that tell you about what the future holds if masses of people don’t stand up and if, ultimately, there is NOT a revolution?

And that is why right now, very urgently—ultimately as a key part of that solution and today very directly as something that anyone with a sense of decency and a hatred of oppression and injustice should support and take up—there is a huge need: to not get derailed into false solutions but to stand up, to step out, to support and join this struggle against mass incarceration.


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