As the entire law enforcement world is watching the ongoing court cases of the controversial and recently ruled unconstitutional NYPD policy “Stop N Frisk”. A recent report in Newsday said that many police commands in Westchester support the controversial policy of “Stop N Frisk”.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, no research has ever proven the effectiveness of the policy of “Stop N Frisk”. Guns have been found in less than 0.2% of all stops, while 88% of those searched have been innocent of any crime. In Park Slope (Brooklyn) alone, blacks and Latinos made up 24% of the population, but constituted 79% of all stop and frisks in 2011.
With overwhelming statistics, we should ask, are there any racial undertones in the creation of police policies like “Stop N Frisk”? If we look closer to the historical relationship between law enforcement and the communities of color, we must have to answer the question with an astounding yes. However, before one can address these prevalent issues, there must be an examination institutional culture of policing that has historically reinforced bias and discrimination. The concept of “Stop N Frisk” and its federal immigration sister law 287g originated from the enforcement of the Slave Codes in what we now called “the old south.”
The first slave code was enacted in North Carolina in 1715, was an attempt to define the social, economic, and physical place of African-Americans by the ruling white society. Some conditions of this early slave code stated that: A slave could not leave “master’s” property without a ticket. Other codes dealt with slave’s possession of weapons, and the assembly of slaves in groups of four or more. Slave codes and slave patrols were established to act as a supplementary force to regulate the black population.
A little talked about historical fact that it was the economic benefits and socially divisive practice of slavery that led to the creation of uniformed police in southern cities decades before Boston (1838) and New York (1845) established the forces, which remain the accepted starting point for the history of the police in the United States.
In her work Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas (Harvard University Press 2001), Sally E. Hadden notes that “there was some variation in the social structure of patrols, the point of establishing them was constant: to maintain white supremacy and privilege.” Dulaney in his book Black Police in America (1996) further noted that the patroller policed specific geographical areas in the southern communities called “beats” and that they were authorized to stop, search, whip, maim and even kill slaves caught off the premises of the plantation without a pass. Like “patrols” which became the basis for policing in the United States as we know it now, the under girding racial perceptions that were borne out of these policing policies still endure.
Racial profiling gives police the new authorization to “stop” Blacks without cause a tactic that is used in NYC “Stop N Frisk”. Like Stop N Frisk, Federal Law 287g allows law enforcement to stop, detain, and check questionable immigrants for their immigration status without any probable cause. There are nearly 600 Law Enforcement officers that are now trained to handle immigration cases in the United States under the umbrella of 287g and ICE. The history of this mandate has shown that the primary target has been the Latino and minority community. The federal government has hidden this policy has been solely used for detention of immigrants of color under the umbrella of Homeland Security. Because of the continuous racial dis-proportionality these policies have brought throughout the nation, as a black man, I am always weary of police management saying, “ We need to go back to good old fashion police work.”
Civil rights attorneys have argued that these policies exist in violation of our constitutional rights. Judge, Shira A. Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan, said that elements of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practice was deemed unconstitutional.
Federal Judge James M. Munley of the Central Pennsylvania District, has emphasized illegal immigrants had the same civil rights as legal immigrants and citizens.
Even though these issues of unconstitutional policies are on trail across the county. Elected officials, community leaders and police management have failed to formally address that race based polices are the bedrock of the institution of policing.
Since its conception, the institution of policing has always been a white male dominated institution. Here in Westchester, after the dismissal of Commissioner Carl Bell of Mt. Vernon in February 2013, there is no person of color above the rank of Captain out of the forty-four municipalities in Westchester County including County Police. Blacks make up approximately 14 percent of the population of Westchester. There is only five of the forty-four police department that have 100 or more full-time officers. Out of those departments, Blacks only make up approximately nine percent of the total number of employed officers.
In 2009, Governor David A. Paterson’s Police on Police Shooting Task Force concluded that there is a bias in law enforcement decisions to shoot a subject based on his or her color. If this panel of police experts concluded that there is a bias on shooting someone, there is also reason to believe that these same biases exist in police policy and procedure. We can no longer dismiss the underling racial perceptions are embedded in police policies and throughout the United States.
With these facts at hand, we must ask, who is policing our police? And who is in charge of proper oversight? Despite having a reputation as being one of the most “progressive” and wealthiest countries, the United States lack an effective oversight in law enforcement. We need to take a page from the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan– all whom have credible Independent Civilian Complaint Review Boards.
Clearly the entire system of policing must be torn down and rebuilt with policies that are built on true tenets of justice and fair dealing by the law. Band-Aid solutions like “special commissions” and their “recommendations” have done and will do little to stem the tide. We need local or state lawmakers with the testicular fortitude to act now. How many more Black men must unjustly lose there lives before someone says, “stop!” How many more people of color’s civil and constitutional rights must be violated under the false cover of fighting crime? A plan must be created to address this draconian, antiquated and dysfunctional race based system of policing in order for the community’s to regain any trust in this institution that we call law enforcement.