First, I applaud our law enforcement brothers and sisters in New York and Westchester for your acts of selfless service. The issues we face are real, and as a retired NYPD Deputy Inspector and national policing expert, I must address an important issue that is currently in front of us: stop-and-frisk is not dead.
There are policies in place designed to reinvigorate this community-paralyzing policy. The latest attempt to legalize anew stop-and-frisk epidemic, more commonly known as the menthol cigarette ban, is currently being deliberated by Westchester legislators.
I lived stop-and-frisk during Former New York Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership, and it wasn’t a good time for the NYPD. We – law enforcement and the Black community – do not want to go back. Sadly, the number of stop-and-frisk cases went up 22% in 2019, according to the ACLU.
Policies like a menthol cigarette ban increase crime. Increase police interactions. Increase drug smuggling of the products from jurisdictions where it is legal. The number of people being pulled over and stopped will increase. The number of innocent Black men in jail will increase. Let’s also remember that youth smoking is on the decline. While, overall crime rates since the pandemic have increased.
In 2022, the Truth Initiative reported that “Smoking rates decline steeply in teens.” It goes on to say, “The decrease in cigarette and e-cigarette use among teens also comes at a time of broader decline in illicit drug use.”
This decline is highly due to jurisdictions implementing methods that work, like cessation programs and education, as well as retailers’ commitment to carrying out the federal law that you have to be 21 and older to purchase any tobacco product.
If passed, the Westchester ban on flavored tobacco and menthol cigarettes will not help to sustain these statistics nor be a conduit to decreasing crime – it will have the opposite effect.
We Don’t Need A New Stop & Frisk
Bloomberg, the creator of stop-and-frisk, once said, “Ninety-five percent of your murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York. That’s true in virtually every city. And that’s where the real crime is. You’ve got to get the guns out of the hands of the people that are getting killed.”
Of black adults who smoke cigarettes, 80% prefer menthol – many of whom are “male minorities,” to use Bloomberg’s words. Proposals to ban all flavored tobacco are racially discriminatory from the outset since there is no scientific basis to regulate menthol and non-menthol cigarettes differently. Non-mentholated cigarettes preferred by white smokers will not be banned.
A ban on menthol cigarettes is a racial ban funded by those who are committed to seeing incidents of stop-and-frisk RISE. As a law enforcement veteran, hear me: we cannot go back. My hope is that we will move towards stronger and more positive interactions between police and communities of color.
I call on Westchester County legislators to address concerns around smoking by doing what works: Education, limited smoke-free areas, and tobacco cessation campaigns have drastically decreased smoking rates over the past few decades. And to the advocates of the ban, it’s important that we lean on the evidence. A report by the Surgeon General states there is “not enough evidence to conclude that banning menthol cigarettes would reduce smoking.”
This is at a time when we in the criminal justice community are trying to improve relationships between police and the community, at a time when we are trying to limit the frequency of contacts between police and law-abiding people in communities of color – because the more contacts we have, the more potential for something to go wrong.
This is a time of rebuilding, reconciliation, and transformation, so to prohibit a historically legal 21+ adult product is a misguided and discriminatory tactic targeting the Black and Brown community, and we do not need a new stop-and-frisk.