This story, on the front page of today's New York Times, is the best look I've read yet on the creeping police statism (my phrase -- not theirs) of New York City's stop-and-frisk, run amok. That's because it starts with the old-fashioned shoe-leather underpinnings of Journalism 101 -- what does it feel like to be repeatedly stopped by cops in the so-called public square?
The questions are probing, authoritative, but less accusatory. “What are you doing here?” “Do you live here?” “Can I see some identification, please?” During the pat-down, they ask, “Do you have anything on you?” They nudge further: “You don’t mind if I search you, do you?” They explain that someone of a matching description robbed a store a few days ago, or that the stop is a random one, part of a program in a high-crime area. Then they apologize for the stop and say the person is free to go.
In interviews with 100 people who said they had been stopped by the New York police in neighborhoods where the practice is most common, many said the experience left them feeling intruded upon and humiliated. And even when officers extended niceties, like “Have a nice night,” or called them “sir” and “ma’am,” people said they questioned whether the officer was being genuine.
Michael Delgado, 18, said he was last stopped on Grant Street in East New York, Brooklyn. “I was walking, and a cop said, ‘Where’s the weed?’ ” he recalled. “In my mind, I’m like, ‘Yo, this guy’s a racist.’ He started frisking me, his hands were in my pockets, but I didn’t say anything because my mom always tells me: ‘No altercations. Let him do his thing.’ ”
I have to confess that I had a blase attitude (attytood?) about stop-and-frisk during the years it was in full bloom here in Philadelphia. The events, unfortunate and otherwise, of Occupy Wall Street last fall were a real eye-opener for me in terms of how far the pendulum on civil liberties has swung in the wrong direction since the turmoil of the 1960s, fueled by the seemingly unconnected accelerant of 9/11. The harm that stop-and-frisk is doing to our once civil society far outweighs the handful of bad guys caught in the nets.
One really cool footnote to this article: The byline. You may remember my piece last month bemoaning the departure from Philadelphia of my now-former colleague, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Wendy Ruderman -- the new chief of the police bureau for the New York Times. This is her first major piece, right out of the box, and it's a home run, just like we all predicted. So it's some small consolation that she's still providing fodder for the blog!
(New York Times photo/Chang W. Lee)