Despite denials by police department officials, racial profiling continues unabated in New York and other cities across the US
In Patterson that’s just the way things go / If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street / ’Less you wanna draw the heat
– Bob Dylan
Today it’s more than Patterson, NJ — it’s every borough in New York City. In 2011 alone, 685,724 people were stopped and frisked by the NYPD. 88 percent were innocent of any crime and 87 percent were either black or Latino (NYCLU). And this is in a city whose residents are 55 percent white or Asian. But “we don’t racial profile,” says NYC’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg (NY Daily News, 5/18/11). Fat chance!
New Yorkers of color, particularly in the city’s poorest and most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, know this is a farce. To them, the NYPD is an occupying army, controlling their areas to make the city “safe” for consumption and finance. Recently, however, the tide has begun to turn against this blatantly racist — and, it appears, unconstitutional — practice. On May 16 a federal judge granted class-action status to a lawsuit against stop-and-frisk, citing the NYPD’s “deeply troubling apathy toward New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights” (NY Times, 5/16/12).
Since the outrageous injustice of the Trayvon Martin case, the long-building anger among communities of color at racist policing has reached a breaking point and undoubtedly influenced the judge’s decision. With even the New York Times editorializing against the practice, Bloomberg’s chief of police has been forced to backpedal, saying he would use a mysterious “quantitative mechanism” (?) to reform the practice. Racist practices like stop-and-frisk shouldn’t be reformed, they should be thrown out!
But this raises broader questions about the role of police in our communities. If we didn’t have police around, right-wingers claim, we’d all just be killing each other. Not true. Violence and crime are largely the products of a decaying capitalist system. “When plants close,” Jesse Jackson recently put it, “jobs leave, guns and drugs come in” (CBS Detroit). New York is the most unequal city in America today. If you don’t work in the high-wage management economy and don’t have a college degree (and sometimes even if you do), you’re generally stuck with low-wage, part-time work or outright unemployment.
In 2011, the official black and Latino unemployment rates in the state of New York were 15.6 and 11.7 percent, respectively — compared to 8 percent across all racial groups (Fiscal Policy Institute). This is only the most recent expression of institutionalized racism, the phenomenon where, as Marc Lamont Hill puts it, “when America has a cold, black people get the flu.” The flu in this case is unemployment, poverty, and residential segregation enforced by landlords’ discrimination. The medicine? From capitalist politicians it’s been nothing but more police, more jails, and – in case you still thought you could walk around freely – stop-and-frisk.
The time is long overdue for an immediate end to this racist policy and to police brutality in general. But lawsuits alone will not achieve this. Mass demonstrations, like those that took place this spring in Sanford, FL and around the country, are a step in the right direction. Where possible, alternative “community policing” should also be posed and put into practice. Ultimately, the best way to stop crime is to provide jobs, education and services, not for an outside force to intimidate an impoverished population. To do this, we need fighting, multi-racial coalitions of working people that can bring our workplaces and communities under democratic control through concerted mass action. Not only do we need an end to stop-and-frisk; we need an end to racism, and what’s more, an end to this rotten, decaying capitalism that can’t even provide for the basic needs of working people.