Don Lemon Stirs the Stop and Frisk Pot—What Ever Happened to Nuance and Good Judgement?
Photo Credit: By Neon Tommy [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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Twitter is exploding right now. CNN's Don Lemon is the focus of 140-character rage as accusations fly back and forth that his weekly Tuesday radio commentary on The Tom Joyner Show was a defense of stop and frisk -- a NYPD policy that, on the one hand, criminalizes millions of black and brown men and, on the other hand, gets credited for a declining crime rate by the likes of former mayor Bloomberg and police chief Ray Kelly. Stop and Frisk is a policy that is passionately hated, debated and defended.
The tweeted headline for Lemon's piece was, "Would You Rather Be Politically Correct Or Safe & Alive?" The headline sparked a storm before the content could be more clearly heard. The devil was in the details of Lemon's commentary, which did not defend stop and frisk at the outset. This was about the 'n' word. No, not that one: nuance. What Don Lemon initially said was powerful and crucial. He argued that "stop, question and frisk" had been so abused it could no longer be seen as a viable policy by the thousands of New Yorkers against whom the police had practiced this discriminatory policy.
Lemon began by arguing fewer New Yorkers would object to the stop, question and frisk policy if a police force respectful of New Yorkers practiced it. Abuses of power, he went on to note, made that unlikely.
... If you question many people in NYC, even some black and Hispanic people, they will tell you that on the surface they don't really have an issue with stop, question and frisk, not the idea of it at least, not if the controversial policy was conducted like the occasional random airport screening, if they could really believe that officers would stop someone and say: "Sir, I'm sorry I need to check your bag or your person." But they know that's not the reality of things on the street. They know that officers will most likely not be that polite, if you can call that polite. They know that in reality they will probably be ordered to put their hands up, spread their legs, or lay on the ground and be handcuffed while an officer or officers had their ways with them, touching them wherever they like, or handling them however they like. So for those of us who would like to believe in theory that we'd rather be inconvenienced by being stopped by police than shot by gun wielding criminals on the street we deeply know that while that is true -- it is highly unlikely that the police, the people holding the authority and our fates in their own hands will treat us as citizens who deserve the same respect as any other citizen who happens not to be of color in the United States. And while we are not letting the people who commit the crimes worthy of stop, question and frisk off the hook, for perpetuating these stereotypes, we know that it is too easy for police and people in authority to become so drunk with power that they abuse it.
Lemon makes several valid points here, and the numbers back them up. In May of this year, the New York Civil Liberties Union released a full analysis of the NYPD's own 2012 stop-and-frisk database. WBAI New York radio news reporter Linda Perry spoke to NYCLU's Legal Director Chris Dunn about their analysis: "[T]he most dramatic thing in the report is that over 90 percent of the people who were stopped were not given a summons or arrested and those people are all innocent people. A 90 percent innocence rate is a pretty clear signal that people are being stopped without justification." On frisking specifically, Dunn said: "The frisking is off the chart. Police officers are only allowed to frisk somebody if they suspect they have a weapon, yet we see frisk rates of 55% for 2012, and of those people frisked only 2% produced a weapon. It is completely clear from the department's own numbers that they are systematically frisking people without any justification." Perry also asked about evidence of force in the stop and frisk policy. Dunn explained: "The most troubling thing about the use of force is the racial disparities. Blacks are almost 50% more likely to have force used against them than whites. And there's no explanation for that other than race playing a role."