Stop-and-frisk is perhaps one of the most controversial issues in American policing today. The fundamental basis for the controversy regarding stop-and-frisk is the concept of racial profiling. There are two schools of thought in defining the term ‘racial profiling’: Race-incorporated profiling and race-reliant profiling. Race-incorporated profiling is the use of race as one of many factors while making law enforcement decisions. By contrast, race-reliant profiling is the reliance on race as the principal and essential basis upon which law enforcement decisions are made.
Demonstrably, the race-incorporated version of racial profiling—that is, using race among other factors to make law enforcement decisions—is not problematic. Those who have an issue with law enforcement officers using race at all in their decisions are essentially preaching a message that aligns with the insidiously utopian colorblind worldview. Yes, race exists, and it would be absurd to imagine that law enforcement officers would blind themselves to race while doing their jobs. Color consciousness in policing is not inherently invidious. Color-centric policing is what is injudicious, offensive, and unacceptably discriminatory. Racial profiling is deeply problematic when the race-reliant definition is employed. When race is the sole or primary basis for law enforcement decisions, this is categorically indefensible, and it is nothing more than lazy and inefficacious policing. This gives law enforcement officers the power to enforce their racial and ethnic biases, as opposed to enforcing the law.
Stop-and-frisk would be an effective policing tactic if the policy were truly based on reasonable suspicion of criminal behaviors, as opposed to the race of certain people. The problem is that the policy is advertised as the former, but is really the latter in praxis. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), in 2011, more young black men are subjected to stop-and-frisk in New York City than there are young black men who live in the city. Clearly, stop-and-frisk, irrespective of whatever it is intended to do in theory, is simply inexcusable race-reliant profiling.
As Cato’s Tim Lynch writes:
According to New York City Police Department (NYPD) records, officers’ ‘suspicion’ has been wrong nearly nine times out of ten. And of the cases where cops thought there was sufficient evidence to make an arrest and proceed to court, more than half of those cases were dismissed before trial.
This plainly shows that the “reasonable suspicion” that officers think they have for stops are clearly unreasonable. This kind of pitiful result is what can be expected from a policy in which the race-reliant variation of racial profiling is leading to most police stops. However, much like the failed War on Drugs, alleged conservatives continue to support this shockingly dysfunctional stop-and-frisk policy. The effort to apprehend criminals is treated as enough of a reason to treat the constitutional rights of innocent young black males as worthless.
An authentic black conservative worldview has to be one in which law and order is respected. Clearly, black conservatives support law enforcement. After all, when police officers dutifully apprehend criminals in urban neighborhoods, black residents are the beneficiaries of a living environment that is markedly safer. That notwithstanding, black conservatives cannot co-sign stop-and-frisk as it is practiced in New York City. Mainstream conservatives point to the crime in New York City and argue that stop-and-frisk has helped to decrease the crime rate. Even if one accepts that argument, these conservatives must argue that the civil liberties of black males who are pointlessly stopped and searched every single day simply do not matter. Black conservatism and mainstream conservatism must necessarily part ways on the issue of stop-and-frisk. Mainstream conservatives simply do not care about the civil liberties of young black men. Simply arguing that a policy reduces crime is not an argument for its judiciousness and ethicality.
There are smorgasbords of crimes that can be prevented by shredding the constitutional protections of citizens. For example, getting rid of the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine—an important legal Fourth Amendment concept—would lead to many more criminals in prison. Surely, getting actual criminals in prison is a conservative goal. Why not allow evidence obtained via police malpractice to enter into a court of law? The answer is because a restrained government with limited power is also a conservative goal—a much more important conservative goal than simply getting criminals into prison. There is absolutely no way that any true constitutional conservative can support stop-and frisk. The term, ‘constitutional conservative’ has been grossly overused by people who can only recognize constitutional contraventions when they are beneficial to a leftist political agenda.
There are too many “constitutional conservative” hypocrites, and not enough genuine constitutional conservatives who, without partisan duplicity, doggedly stand up for the civil rights of all people.
Additionally, arguing that violent crime statistics demonstrate an elevated rate of crime among young black men is not a coherent argument for harassing innocent young black men. Surely, police training ought to equip officers with the tools to be able to make a differentiation between a criminal and a law-abiding citizen. Clearly, if 90 percent of searches are proven to be incorrect stops, NYPD officers obviously have questionable discernment vis-à-vis detecting criminals. Stop-and-frisk fundamentally reduces the important legal principle of probable cause to a simplistic racial hunch. Stop-and-frisk acts as a prime justification for the resentment that many in the black community have built for law enforcement.
If stop-and-frisk were a policy used against white males in order to impede criminality, the same hypocritical conservatives who cheer on the despicable harassing of black males that occurs under stop-and-frisk would undoubtedly be caterwauling about the unconscionable violation of the civil liberties of American citizens. It is also curious that supporters of stop-and-frisk are the same people who were screaming from the rooftops about the Obama administration’s significantly less invasive program of collecting telephone records in order to garner intelligence on terrorists. It is either civil liberties matter or they do not—and if they matter, they must matter to all citizens of this constitutional republic.
Some mainstream conservatives like to paint stop-and-frisk as somehow doing more good than it does harm. The esteemed conservative writer Heather Mac Donald is among them.
In City Journal she writes:
Yes, being stopped and questioned when innocent of wrongdoing can be humiliating and infuriating, though the stop is legal. The NYPD must constantly reinforce its officers’ duty to treat the people they stop with respect. But until an equally effective alternative to proactive policing is found—and to date, none has been—residents of high-crime neighborhoods face a blunt choice between an elevated risk of getting stopped and an elevated risk of getting shot.
As statistics show, most cases of stop-and-frisk in New York City do not rise to the level of probable cause, so only by a stretch of logic can the policy be deemed legal. Also, Mac Donald misses the fundamental point that ‘respect’ is defenestrated at the precise moment a law enforcement officer stops a man primarily because of the color of his skin. The notion that NYPD officers can just be nice to people after harassing them with pointless stops and searches would be as nonsensical as suggesting that police officers can freely raid the homes of American citizens as long as they are affable in the process. The insulting presumption of criminality that is integral to the stop and search of an innocent young black male is not mollified by a saccharine smile from a police officer.
Another point is that effective proactive policing must coincide with community policing.
That does not just entail understanding the policing needs of a community, but also having cultural knowledge pertaining to such communities, which would enable officers to correctly distinguish between criminals and non-criminals. Most NYPD officers obviously lack such knowledge, which is why a preposterously high percentage of stops are erroneous. Lastly, Mac Donald’s argument that blacks in New York City and other neighborhoods with high crime rates ought to decide between droves of young black males being needlessly harassed by police officers or being shot by conscienceless criminals is a logical fallacy, namely a false dilemma. Black people are not resigned to two appalling options of either accepting vile discrimination or brutal death by gunshot. The more logically coherent and reasonable option is to fundamentally revise stop-and-frisk so it is a policy that leads to the apprehension of criminals, without the wholesale criminalization of an innocent demographic group. This fallacious line of argumentation presented by Mac Donald is not one that society would brook when used against any other group besides young black men.
Stop-and-frisk and the disregard of the civil liberties of young black males has implications that go far beyond law enforcement. One must also understand that such policies help to perpetuate the noisome cultural myth that most young black men are criminals who should be treated as such in order for neighborhoods to be safe. Stop-and-frisk, then, helps to create a culture in which young black males are treated with undue suspicion. After all, George Zimmerman may not have been a police officer, but he still felt the need to stalk, harass, and ultimately kill a young black male who looked ‘suspicious’ walking through a neighborhood where he was legally permitted to be. The same is the case with Michael Dunn’s killing of Jordan Davis. Thinking that there are no cultural implications of reckless laws like stop-and-frisk is simply misguided.
If black conservatives are serious about presenting a brand of conservatism that is beneficial to the black community, stop-and-frisk represents one of many areas of policy where serious black conservatives must deviate from mainstream conservatism. Not all brands of conservatism are beneficial to the black community. Clearly, the brand of conservatism that treats stop-and-frisk as acceptable certainly has no use to black people. There is nothing conservative about stop-and-frisk. Lazy color-centric policing and the violation of the civil rights of black males have no foundational basis in authentic conservative principles. Although the mainstream American conservative movement could not care less about civil liberties when black males are involved, the responsibility of championing the rights that black citizens have in America is the role of the authentic black conservative.
Opposing stop-and-frisk has nothing to do with being anti-law enforcement. Judicious, non-racist law enforcement is undoubtedly beneficial to urban communities. However, support for law enforcement must not extend to defending clearly discriminatory policies that jettison the constitutional rights of young African American males. Stop-and-frisk essentially codifies that being young, black, and male unalterably equates to criminality. That is a reprehensibly racist falsehood supported by some mainstream conservatives. Serious black conservatives must vociferously oppose this heinous mendacity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chidike Okeem is a writer. Born in Nigeria, raised in London, England, and now living in California, he writes about race, culture, religion, and politics. You can follow him on Twitter @VOICEOFCHID and read the rest of his writings on his website at www.voiceofchid.com.