THROUGH THE AGES, there have been plenty of practices that today's standards would call barbaric. Take lobotomies, the practice of damaging brain cells to control mental illness, popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
We can't help wondering whether, a decade or two from now, society will feel the same way about stop-and-frisk: the practice whereby police stop and question people, and, in 13 percent of those cases, frisk them.
Some people call this "policing." But there are many reasons why it's not: The Supreme Court requires "reasonable suspicion" for police to stop and to frisk people. Without such suspicion, such actions are, at best, unconstitutional and, at worst, an abuse of police powers that damages the public trust.
An analysis of Philadelphia's practice submitted to the court last week -the sixth of such analyses conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union and attorney David Rudovsky since 2011 - suggests both: Reasonable suspicion was lacking in 33 percent of stops and 43 percent of frisks.
Now add this fact: Nearly 70 percent of the people stopped by police were black, a quarter were white and the rest Latino. Of those frisked, nearly 80 percent were black, 10 percent were Latino and the rest white.
Now add one more damaging fact: The number of guns or contraband actually recovered through these practices is minimal. In a random sample of 2,380 stops, six guns and 37 non-gun contraband were recovered.
If the practice has as many problems as this one has, with few positive outcomes, why are we still doing this?
Mayor Kenney campaigned on ending the practice, but he has lately modified his position to improving it. Except the city has been ordered to improve the flaws in the department's approach to stop-and-frisk for the past five years, following a lawsuit in 2011, with little result.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross defended the practice last week by saying most stop-and-frisks are in high-crime neighborhoods. He says further, "If you were to take that away from police officers, you would have chaos on the streets . . ."
Which, given the facts, is an odd pronouncement.
Especially given the facts in New York, another city with a problematic history: Despite a serious reduction in the number of stop-and-frisks from a high of 700,000 in 2011, violent crimes there have declined.
Every year, the police stop at least 200,000 Philadelphia citizens. That means that 66,000 people are stopped without reasonable suspicion, and, more specifically, that 46,000 blacks are stopped without reasonable suspicion.
Are we OK with the notion that every day in this city, the police stop and question nearly 200 people, most of them black, without reasonable suspicion?