Some Points of Orientation:
On Mayor de Blasio's Stop-and-Frisk "Reforms"

February 10, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


In the 2013 class action lawsuit Floyd v. City of New York, Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the NYPD's implementation of its stop-and-frisk policy was unconstitutional, and she imposed legal remedies that amounted to mandating changes and putting in place a process to reform and adjust the policy. The changes included a pilot project to have a small number of cops wear body cameras that would record their interactions with people they stop. A monitor was also appointed to oversee the reform process.

Under Michael Bloomberg, who was Mayor of New York at the time of the ruling, there was an immediate appeal of the ruling by the City of New York. But now the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, has announced the city will drop its appeal and implement Scheindlin's reforms. And the new Chief of Police, Bill Bratton, has declared that the "stop-and-frisk problem is solved" because the number of stops has gone down.

The following are important points of orientation to frame the conversation about the "stop-and-frisk reforms" being implemented by de Blasio and Bratton.

* * * * *

1. Stop-and-frisk isn't a necessary policing tactic the NYPD "took too far." It's a policy based on racially profiling people, one that concentrates the way Black and Latino people, especially young people, have been criminalized and demonized in U.S. society. Under this policy, police stop people on the way to and from work or school. They accost people who are sitting on park benches relaxing, playing basketball in the park, visiting a friend or relative in a housing project, or even entering or leaving their own buildings! Young Black men tell stories of being stopped on a regular basis, sometimes by the same cops. NYPD Chief Ray Kelly told three Black elected officials he wanted every young Black and Latino male to fear that the NYPD would stop-and-frisk them whenever they left the house in the morning. (Kelly doesn't deny saying this. Instead he says it was taken out of context.) In 2011, the NYPD recorded 150,000 stops of Black males between the ages of 15 and 24—there are fewer than 150,000 Black males between those ages in New York City! All this combines to create a situation where a whole section of society—Blacks and Latinos, and especially the youth—are systematically targeted and treated like criminals, guilty until proven innocent, if they can survive to prove their innocence. Where Black youth like Ramarley Graham end up dead because cops treat them as immediate "suspects" to be hounded, followed, and sometimes shot and killed for a "suspicious bulge"—or for no reason at all. All this is part of generations of Black and Latino youth being demonized and criminalized.

2. This system has no future for millions and millions of Black and Latino youth—other than becoming part of America's military, invading and occupying other countries; or ending up in prison.

The enslavement of African people was built into the foundations of this country and for hundreds of years this system has been oppressing and exploiting generations of their descendants. But today, because of the very workings of the system itself, U.S. capitalism does not have the same ability to profitably exploit a large section of Black people in this country, most especially the youth.

Increasing globalization of U.S. imperialism over the last several decades has meant the further de-industrialization of American cities. Factories and other businesses have moved to other countries where capitalists can make higher profits by more savagely exploiting people. The official unemployment rate among Black youth (ages 16-24) has remained around 30 percent—and even higher in some cities. As one bourgeois economist put it, for inner-city youth, "crime is a rational choice."

The system's answer to the fact that it cannot employ a huge section of the population has been genocidal: to attack and humiliate these youth, criminalize them, lock them up, brutalize them and kill them in different ways.

This is the workings and the ways of this system. This is what's behind conscious policies like stop-and-frisk. This is why the arguments being waged over what kind of policing we need are in fact nothing but arguments over how best to control and dominate and—when and if they deem it "necessary"—to kill Black and Latino youth.

Police policies like stop-and-frisk serve as a pipeline for mass incarceration in the U.S.—a situation where some 2.3 million people are imprisoned in the United States, the majority Black and Latino. A basic truth and point of orientation to understand about this is that the ONLY reason this country has this horrible and shameful regimen of mass incarceration is because this system cannot profitably exploit the intelligence, energy, creativity, and full potential of these millions and millions of youth; and so it has no other answer than to control and destroy them.

The rulers of this country remember what happened when this system was seriously threatened by the upsurges of the 1960s; how the struggle of Black people was an important part of this; how millions of people at that time questioned the legitimacy of the government and revolution was a real possibility.

Today, this impels those who rule to even more sharply try to smother any spark of resistance and defiance. Today, this is another reason why this system looks at millions of Black and Latino youth as not only a section of society that it has no use for, but also a "dangerous element" in society—that must be contained and strictly controlled.

This is how and why stop-and-frisk and mass incarceration are part of a whole strategy of the capitalist-imperialists to both control these youth in general AND to prevent any resistance or, indeed, the emergence of a movement for revolution among them.

3. Bill Bratton, Mayor de Blasio's choice for Chief of Police, has already declared that with regards to stop-and-frisk, "the problem has been more or less solved" because the number of stops has gone down and has even stopped in some neighborhoods. But Bratton staunchly defends stop-and-frisk as an "essential policing tool," saying it has just been "over-applied for an extended period of time."

Widespread exposure of the brutal and racist nature of stop-and-frisk has resulted in millions of people beginning to question the legitimacy of not only the NYPD but the system itself. Now the powers that be have some damage control to do, even as they seek to find ways to maintain the essence of their stop-and-frisk policy.

In announcing the settlement in the Floyd v. the City of New York lawsuit, de Blasio said, "We're here today to turn the page on one of the most divisive problems in our city," and talked about focusing on "improving relations between the police and communities hit hard by stop-and-frisk." This is also what is behind Bratton's statement that he will train his police to be "more respectful in their approach" and that they are no longer going to go after "the general population." But the program he outlines is one that, in some ways, is even more vicious and deadly.

Bratton says his cops are going to go after the "known criminal population" of a community. In other words, stop-and-frisks aren't going to be any less brutal and humiliating. They're certainly not going to stop racially profiling people. In fact, they're going to be more targeted—at the youth who are already being criminalized.

Bratton brags that when he was Chief of Police in LA, they had a database of 40,000 "known gang members" that they focused on, went after and arrested. In LA, they have a gang injunction where it's illegal for two or more people to be together in some neighborhoods, whether standing on a corner or at their own home. When the cops pick people up for even minor things they can get entered into the gang database. This kind of policing is what Bratton is bringing to New York.

In LA, Bratton built ties between the LAPD and people in the neighborhoods like community leaders, OGs, ex-gang members, and others. This was about getting informants (setting up networks of snitches). Now Bratton has plans to use this expertise in New York to go from a situation where there is a lot of hate and mistrust of the NYPD, in large part exactly because of the practice of stop-and-frisk, to where the cops can not only calm people's anger, but even get some of them to put their faith in working with the police.

4. A major reason the NYPD has to even make any "reforms" of stop-and-frisk now is because of the struggle of the people. For several years now, there has been growing and widespread resistance to stop-and-frisk. This has taken different forms—from non-violent civil disobedience where people put their bodies on the line, to mass protests in the streets, to panels, speakouts, and class action lawsuits. All this had the effect of shining a bright national and international spotlight on the fact that the NYPD was carrying out an official policy that was brutal, inhuman and unconstitutional. The powers-that-be could not ignore this fact, and this is why they have to now carry out some small reforms, even as they must also keep the essence of the practice of stop-and-frisk and the role it fulfills (even if they might perhaps someday end up calling it something else).

5. We don't need to mend stop-and-frisk. We need to END IT—for all the reasons above: That stop-and-frisk is a brutal, inhumane, and racist policy. That due to its very nature and workings, this system has no future for millions of Black and Latino youth. That stop-and-frisk is part of a whole strategy to target these youth the system not only fears, but needs to control and prevent from rebelling and rising up.

Such a system—that carries out such conscious brutality and then wants the people to be satisfied with a few modifications, even as it continues to carry out slow genocide against Black people, is a system whose TIME IS UP! We need revolution, nothing less!

The struggle to STOP stop-and-frisk and against mass incarceration is vitally important both in terms of building a movement to do that AND to prevent the people being ground down, deeper and deeper… and everyone who has an ounce of love for justice in them should be part of building a real movement to resist this new Jim Crow in all its dimensions.

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