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“Ending Stop-And-Frisk But Keeping The Racism”: Systematic “Post-Racial Colorblind Racism” In All Its Glory

On Monday, US district court judge Shira Scheindlin dealt a serious, but non-lethal blow to the New York City police policy known as “stop-and-frisk.” After weeks of testimony and evidence presented in the case of Floyd v. City of New York, Scheindlin ruled that stop-and-frisk violated individuals’ Fourth Amendment right to privacy and Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. She did not, however, call for an end to the policy altogether, instead opting to appoint an independent federal monitor to oversee the program and the implementation of reforms that would bring it in line with the Constitution.

Undoubtedly, this is a huge victory for the activists who have been doing work around the issue of stop-and-frisk for years, and perhaps an even bigger victory for the black and Latino young men whose lives have been disproportionately disrupted by repeated violations of their rights. In her ruling, Scheindlin wrote that “the policy encourages the targeting of young black and Hispanic men based on their prevalence in local crime complaints. This is a form of racial profiling.” The ruling may not put an end to stop-and-frisk in its entirety, but at the very least there was a recognition from the court that for years the city’s police force has engaged in a racist practice that has infringed upon the rights of millions.

The same can’t be said of NYC’s current political leadership. In a press conference yesterday afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police commissioner Ray Kelly were visibly dismayed with the ruling. Stop-and-frisk has been a signature crime-fighting tool during the Bloomberg years, one that defines his legacy. Kelly has received praise from high places, in large part because of the work he has done in executing the stop-and-frisk policy. For a judge to rule their “success” unconstitutional surely grates. But their defense of “stop-and-frisk,” despite weak attempts to deny as much, went on to show just how racist it is.

To start, Bloomberg noted the racial diversity of the NYPD, presumably to protect against charges of racism by pointing to the fact that people of color are active parts of the police force. But having your rights violated by someone who looks like you doesn’t somehow make that violation less racist. The fact is that out of roughly 5 million stops conducted over a decade, an alarming majority of them involved black or Latino men, and almost 90 percent of those stops turned up no evidence of wrongdoing. You can add some color to the faces conducting the stops, but that’s an institutionalized form of racism that doesn’t rely on white skin to operate.

He didn’t stop there. Bloomberg then deployed some lazy racist rhetoric about how the greatest perpetrators of crime happen to be young black and Latino men, so it only makes sense that the stops would disproportionately affect them. It’s the close relative to his argument that the NYPD has been, given crime statistics, stopping too many white people. Bloomberg and Kelly added the paternalistic line of reasoning that it was young black and Latino men who would also disproportionately be the victims of crimes stop-and-frisk has prevented, so the policy is really for their own benefit. Aside from erasing the opinions of those whom the policy is supposedly meant to protect, that reasoning also perpetuates the racist idea that black and Latino men are inherently violent and criminal, and therefore ignoring their rights is a necessary measure of protection. It also flies in the face of the evidence—stops of white people turn up higher rates of criminal activity. Based on the results of their own policy, it would have been prudent to shift the tactic to include more stops of white people, something that never happened and would likely have caused actual riots in the street.

But none of that is what Bloomberg and Kelly wanted us to focus on. Their most compelling argument: stop-and-frisk works. The city’s homicide rates are down and the police have recovered more than 8,000 guns that may have been used in potential crimes. For the sake of argument, let’s say that stop-and-frisk actually did reduce crime (a claim for which there is no actual evidence, only Bloomberg’s anecdotal belief that it instills fear in would-be criminals to the point they decide a life of crime isn’t worth the police harassment they’re going to receive). Even if that were the case, it still does not justify the use of a racist tactic that violates basic rights guaranteed to every citizen of this country. It’s disingenuous to suggest that the only way to reduce crime is to decide that the rights of certain segments of the population can and should be violated. Not only does this ignore the true drivers of crime (and not call into question whether some of these infractions should even be crimes, e.g., marijuana possession), it’s a frustratingly insidious justification for racism.

To recap: Bloomberg and Kelly denied that stop-and-frisk is racist, but then claimed it wasn’t racist enough, and now want everyone to believe that even if it is racist it doesn’t matter because it works. This is post-racial colorblind racism in all its glory.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see what type of reforms to stop-and-frisk are implemented in order to make it constitutional, though I doubt it can be any less racist. We are a society that starts with the presumption the greatest purveyors of crime are young black and Latino men. Any policy based around the idea of reasonable suspicion that then leaves that up to the discretion of people reared with that pervasive racist ideology will be disproportionately suspicious of men of color. Declaring stop-and-frisk unconstitutional is an important first step, but undoing the racism that creates the justification for the policy will be a much longer process.

 

By: Mychal Denzel Smith, The Nation, August 13, 2013

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Not Like The TSA”: In The Scheme Of Things, Stop And Frisk Is Worse Than NSA Surveillance

My black friends in New York, particularly those who don’t live in the fancier precincts of Manhattan, have been harassed by the NYPD in a way that I, as a white guy, will never experience.

They’ve been stopped and frisked, for reasons known only to the officers. Almost every young black male I know has a story to tell.

The news today that a federal judge found this deliberate policing policy to be unconstitutional is a welcome one.

If you have never been stopped and frisked by a cop, it might not seem like a big deal.

So you lose, what, a few minutes of your time. You get frisked, there’s nothing on you, and you get sent on your way. It’s like the TSA.

Except that it’s not. It’s an encounter between powerless citizens and highly empowered police officers. It is scary. The confrontations are often aggressive, which is entirely appropriate from the perspective of the police officer: The person might be carrying. You’ve been singled out for your proximity to a place where a crime might be committed and because of the way you look, the way you move, the route you take. Your attitude towards the police will harden.

I think the NYPD is by and large an incredible organization and that its policing strategies have made New York City immeasurably safer; the city’s minority residents live with much less fear than ever before. But I think the “stop and frisk” policy is overzealous and counter-productive. And I think, in a small but tangible way, the practice harms those who come into contact with it.

The NSA’s surveillance capabilities and even its bulk collection programs do not damage or degrade Americans’ rights; they do not harm our ability to participate in the political process. (I think the FBI’s policies are MUCH more worrisome on that end.) To me, the symbolic harm is enough. I want the bright line to exist to prevent potential abuses by unsavory politicians.

There are many, many important debates to have about civil rights and liberties. Because of the NSA’s size, scope, and reach, I would be very concerned if the potential for willful abuse, and by extension, the potential to do something tangibly bad to Americans (and other innocents) was more than negligible. But it is negligible. Figuring out how to make sure NSA does everything right is important, but there is not one iota of evidence that the over-collection, even if it was broad, was (a) willful (b) not immediately reported and (c) ever detected by the Americans whose data passed through computers it shouldn’t have.

Yes, it would make me feel weird if I knew that an analyst somewhere was able to read my email; yes, I am totally and resolutely in favor of strong oversight procedures that are recognized by everyone as legitimate; but all the same, I am not being stopped by the police, or tortured, or arrested, or asked not to write something, or harassed, or, really, impacted in any way by that over-collect.

We have to make distinctions between what gives us the willies and what hurts or harms us. We have to make distinctions, fine ones, within topics; the NSA is not the CIA is not the FBI is not the NYPD.

Torture is evil. False wars are evil. Companies manipulating the data they collect to make you buy things and vote for people — that’s pretty wicked, too. What NSA does is not remotely close to that. To circle back to the point that’s obvious: They’re the government. They personify executive power. Our skepticism ought to be higher. I totally agree. But at the same time, we should not invent a caricature of what NSA does in order to polarize the debate about it. The facts don’t warrant that, just in the same way that the facts about the history of intelligence collection should absolutely force us to be vigilant.

In the scheme of things, the stop and frisk policy is a greater threat to civil rights than the NSA’s bulk collection programs.

 

By: Marc Ambinder, The Week, August 13, 2013

August 14, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Even If He Wins, He Loses”: For Rush Limbaugh, The Damage Is Already Done

One week after it was first reported that talk radio giant Cumulus Media might cut ties with Rush Limbaugh and pull his show from 40 of its stations nationwide, the end result of the contractual showdown remains unclear. But we do know this: The damage has been done to Limbaugh and his reputation inside the world of AM radio as an untouchable star.

By opting to publicly negotiate its contract and making it clear the broadcast company is willing to walk away from his program, Cumulus has delivered a once unthinkable blow to Limbaugh’s industry prestige. (Cumulus is also threatening to drop Sean Hannity’s syndicated radio show.)

Even if Limbaugh wins in the end, he loses. Even if Limbaugh manages to stay on Cumulus’ enviable rosters of major market talk stations, Limbaugh comes out of the tussle tarnished and somewhat diminished.

Recall that one year after Limbaugh ignited the most severe crisis of his career by insulting law student Sandra Fluke for three days on the air, attacking her as a “slut,” the talker’s team announced the host was unhappy with Cumulus. Angry that its CEO had been noting in the press how many advertisers Limbaugh had lost over the Fluke firestorm (losses that continue to accumulate), an anonymous Limbaugh source told Politico the host was so angry he might walk away from Cumulus when his contract expired at the end of the year.

Well, last week Cumulus called Limbaugh’s bluff, plain and simple. And now the talker’s side appears to be scrambling to make sure his show remains with Cumulus. But again, the damage is done. If Limbaugh really were an all-powerful source in AM radio, he would walk away from Cumulus. But he’s not, and he can’t.

Cumulus is reportedly driving a hard bargain and wants to reduce the costs associated with carrying Limbaugh’s show, especially since he’s unable to attract the same advertisers he used to. If in the end a deal is struck and Limbaugh stays with Cumulus for a reduced rate, what happens when the talker’s contract expires with another large AM station group? Of course they’re going to demand the same deal Cumulus got in exchange for keeping Limbaugh’s show, or they’ll threaten to drop the talker, too. And then on and on the process will repeat itself as broadcasters realize that maybe they can get Limbaugh on the cheap.

By the way, this is the exact opposite of how Limbaugh renewals used to be handled. Years ago, owners and general managers at Limbaugh’s host stations lived in fear of getting a phone call from Limbaugh’s syndicator, Clear Channel-owned Premier Networks, informing them the host was moving across town to a competitor when his contract was up. But today, Cumulus negotiates its Limbaugh contract via the press, apparently without the slightest concern about ending its association with him.

Of course, Limbaugh and Clear Channel could hold their ground, refuse to budge on Cumulus’ demands and walk away from the radio giant with AM stations from coast to coast. That is an option, but it’s also an unpleasant one in terms of what it would mean to Limbaugh’s once-unvarnished reputation as the AM talk gold standard.

Just look at what would likely happen to Limbaugh in New York City, the largest radio market in America. He’s currently heard on WABC-AM, which has broadcast Limbaugh for decades and has served as his unofficial flagship station in America. But Cumulus owns the station and it’s one that Limbaugh would get yanked off if the two sides can’t come to an agreement. Where would Limbaugh likely end up in New York? On WOR-AM, a talk station that Clear Channel purchased last year, many observers believed, as a way to make sure Limbaugh would have a New York home if his deal ended at WABC-AM.

So what’s wrong with Limbaugh moving to WOR-AM? Only the fact that the station is currently a ratings doormat, ranked 25th in that market with less than half the audience of WABC-AM. Yes, it’s likely Limbaugh would improve that station’s ratings if he moved over there. But at this stage in his career for Limbaugh to have to start over in the most important radio market in the country and do it on such a low-rated station? If you don’t think that kind of demotion would sting, you don’t understand the oversized egos that fuel talk radio in America.

The move to lowly WOR-AM would also call into question why debt-ridden Clear Channel opted to boost Limbaugh’s salary by an astounding 40 percent in 2009, assuring him a $400 million payday over a ten-year contract.

Then again, Limbaugh is no stranger to sagging ratings, especially in New York City. Back in his prime a decade ago, Limbaugh helped power WABC-AM to become the number five-rated station in all of New York. Today, with Limbaugh still its marquee draw, the station has fallen to number 15 in the ratings, which may explain why Cumulus is willing to negotiate his departure.

Other cities would also pose a post-Cumulus problem. In Chicago for instance, Limbaugh would get dropped from WLS (which has also seen declining ratings in recent months), and without a Clear Channel-owned talk station in the market to pick him up, Limbaugh would have to find a new AM home. But based on the current radio landscape in Chicago, there would appear to be very few logical takers. (The city’s top-rated AM information stations lean heavy on news and local talk; less on right-wing syndicated hosts like Limbaugh.)

Appearing on CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday, Talkers editor Michael Harrison insisted, “Rush is going to be around as long as he wants.” He added, “He’ll be 90 years old and still have a show.” Harrison may be right. But last week’s public shaming by Cumulus will likely be remembered for years as a turning point in Limbaugh’s broadcast trajectory.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, August 5, 2013

August 7, 2013 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Not The Sex, It’s The Stupidity”: Anthony Weiner, Bob Filner And Eliot Spitzer Are Too Stupid For Politics

For a moment, leave aside your emotions. Forget the disgusting character of New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner’s sexting. Ignore the maddening hypocrisies attending New York City comptroller candidate Eliot Spitzer’s “Client 9” moniker. Dismiss the arrogance revealed in San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s alleged sexual harassment.

Clearly, these men seem to have behaved deplorably – possibly even criminally. It’s perfectly fine to be angry, repulsed, and even transfixed by these outrageous scandals. Public servants are not supposed to do these types of things.

And while the media are not wrong for focusing on the shock-value side of these elected officials’ transgressions, the most relevant question to the public tends not to get answered: are these politicians just too dumb to be good at their jobs?

Politics requires perception and forethought. One must know the likely repercussions of one’s actions before doing them. One must know how others’ will receive their words before saying them. Understanding “cause and effect” is a necessary political skill.

Yet as someone who has spent more than a decade scientifically researching and writing on the electoral consequences of scandal, I’m still shocked by the glaring lack of judgment displayed by the politicians at the center of these ethical storms. It’s not just their immorality (infidelity, etc.), which most of them apologize for and suggest occurred because they were experiencing something akin to temporary insanity. It’s the fact that most of these politicians don’t even seem to notice that along with their flagrantly bad behavior, they’re also making such unbelievably stupid choices.

For instance, inventing the name Carlos Danger (Weiner’s alternate identity). Or George Fox (Spitzer’s alternate identity). Or allegedly requesting that a colleague “get naked” at work without wearing panties.

Really? Danger? Fox? Naked? These words alone should have clued these politicians into the possibility that they were engaging in activities that might have negative consequences.

And if they weren’t perceptive enough to realize this or they were too amused with their own assumed cleverness, then they’re too dense to be good politicians. Forgiving a moral failing is one thing, discounting political ineptitude is another thing entirely.

It’s the stupidity that’s scandalous and the most elementary reason why these politicians should not hold public office.

 

By: Lara Brown, U. S. News and World Report, July 24, 2013

July 25, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How To Lie With Statistics”: Stoking White Fear With Bad Analysis

This week, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen published an inarticulate and very inept interpretation of the demography of shootings listed in the New York City Police Department’s 2012 Crime and Enforcement report. In his “Racism vs. Reality” piece, he argued that the post-Zimmerman discourse about racial profiling isn’t acknowledging that people are afraid of black men because black men commit more crime.

Cohen writes that blacks make up “a quarter of the population and commit 78 percent of the shootings in New York City.” He implies that the city’s “Stop & Frisk” program is justified: “If young black males are your shooters, then it ought to be young black males whom the police stop and frisk… It would be senseless for the police to be stopping Danish tourists in Times Square just to make the statistics look good.”

Cohen should be embarrassed by his innumeracy. He cherry-picked one piece of data and drew biased, grand generalizations, which serve no purpose other than to stoke “white fear” and reinforce a long running stereotype of the “Negro Savage,” a term used by white supremacists to assert that a slave was a docile creature, content in captivity, but as a freeman, a dangerous menace from the dark continent driven by base and barbaric instincts to rape and pillage white society. The Ku Klux Klan and others used this stereotype to justify lynching and other violence against blacks during the segregation era.

Today, this stereotype has morphed into the “Criminal Black Man.” The dangerous, inner-city, hoody-wearing, gun-toting, drug-dealing man who must be watched, stopped and frisked to ensure that proper society remains safe.  It is a conception that has a long running, insidious and chilling effect on public policy. It shapes ineffective policing techniques and many other ineffective laws meant to lower crime rates. We need to go no further than Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s WOR radio interview last month to see how this plays out. He said, “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.”

Had Cohen read Darell Huff’s 1954 book, “How to Lie with Statistics,” or attended one of the National Press Club Institutes’ recent talks on data journalism, he would have realized his inferences are weak because he misinterpreted the statistics. He committed sampling bias and overgeneralization. Cohen looks at one facet of the NYPD report and superimposes it on the entire U.S. population of black men. He doesn’t consider any other angles that may blow a hole in his conclusions, such as: How many shootings ended in a guilty verdict? How many were justified? How many accidental? How many arrests ended in acquittal?

Or for that matter, how does this information relate to the fact that New York City’s crime rate is at its lowest since the 1950s, in light of the fact that it’s minority population has grown significantly since? Or at the very least, why are the police incapable of conducting race-neutral work. Rooting out potential criminals based on behavior and not race?

Cohen’s column would have contributed rather than detracted from this conversation had it discussed how these stereotypes inform public policy choices. Instead of fanning “white fear,” he would have helped loosen the emotional grip this trial now has on the national discourse, a stranglehold that is drawing lines in the sand, fueling recriminations and preventing a substantive, solutions-driven conversation about taming the real elephant in the room: Why do we consistently allow stereotypes to stymie our continual efforts to cultivate a fair, just, democratic American Society?

 

By: Jamie Chandler, U. S. News and World Report, July 16, 2013

July 17, 2013 Posted by | Racism, Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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