Revolution #272, June 17, 2012

Reforms and Tweaks Won’t Cut It

Stop-and-frisk has been much in the news in New York City. A federal judge ruled a civil suit against it could go forward as a class action suit, saying the city’s arguments “do not withstand the overwhelming evidence that there, in fact, exists a centralized stop-and-frisk program that has led to thousands of unlawful stops.” The New York Times wrote an editorial titled “Reform Stop & Frisk,” which concluded, “the city should be trying to settle this case and working immediately to reform a policy that violates rights and undermines trust in the police.” NYPD chief Ray Kelly announced new measures that center on greater supervision of street cops.

On June 5, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed legislation to reduce the penalty for possessing a small amount of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a violation. Right now people who display 25 grams or less of marijuana in public are charged with a misdemeanor, which means they get arrested and could be sent to prison. When a cop stops-and-frisks someone, if the person has a little marijuana on him and the cop tells him to empty his pockets, or the cop empties them himself, the person is considered to be displaying marijuana in public and then gets arrested. Since stop-and-frisk overwhelmingly targets Blacks and Latinos, that’s who mainly ends up in prison for having a little bit of pot. (Nearly 90 percent of the 50,000 people arrested annually for marijuana possession in NYC are Black or Latino.) Cuomo’s proposal would mean people would no longer be arrested if a cop who stops and frisks them finds marijuana. Instead they’d get a ticket and a fine.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Stop-and-frisk is racist and illegitimate. It concentrates the racial profiling cops employ all across the country. This racial profiling serves as a pipeline to mass incarceration. This system has brutally and bitterly exploited African-American people since Day One. Now it offers no future for many millions of young Black and Latino people except for getting caught up in crime and going in and out of prison or joining the military and becoming a killing machine for this system. Mass incarceration is the system’s response to this situation. This alone is reason enough to sweep this system off the face of the earth thru revolution. There is an analysis, a vision and a strategy for such a revolution, concentrated in the works and leadership of Bob Avakian.

What’s needed right now is determined massive resistance to mass incarceration and all its consequences. A lot is at stake here. 2.4 million people, more than 60 percent of them Black or Latino, are warehoused in prisons across the country. People in prison are subjected to conditions that are like torture. Then when people get out of prison after serving their sentences, they are discriminated against. Five million former prisoners can’t find work, can’t get a government loan, and can’t live in public housing or even vote. Add to all this the families of all those who face this racial profiling, mass incarceration and discrimination after they’ve served their sentences. Literally, tens of millions of people live lives that are enmeshed in the web of the criminal “injustice” system. This amounts to a slow genocide that could easily become a fast one.

If we respond to all this with silence, things will continue on this genocidal track. On the other hand, if we meet mass incarceration and all its consequences with determined mass resistance we can beat back the shit they’re doing to us and take things in a different direction.

This needed resistance has begun to develop. Books exposing the injustice of mass incarceration have been published. People who have suffered abuse at the hands of the police have spoken out. Mass resistance has begun to be initiated, like the campaign of civil disobedience targeting stop-and-frisk that Cornel West and I initiated last fall as part of building stronger resistance to mass incarceration. Protests were held at police stations in Harlem, Brooklyn, and Queens. The trials of those arrested at these protests began in May, focusing more attention on opposition to stop-and-frisk. People who didn’t know about it now know and have felt forced to take a stand on it. People who had suffered under it and felt there was nothing they could do have felt emboldened to begin to speak out about the injustice it inflicts on them.

All this is what’s driving the motion and commotion around stop-and-frisk. Why is Cuomo proposing legislation now? And why did Ray Kelly and NYC Mayor Bloomberg, who have previously warned that any weakening of stop-and-frisk would unleash criminal hordes on the city, immediately announce their support for Cuomo’s proposal? Because in the face of the resistance and exposure, they have had to back up and offer surface changes to stop-and-frisk in order to cool the protests out, with the aim of maintaining the essence of stop-and-frisk—treating whole generations of youth as criminals.

The injustice of stop-and-frisk can’t be smoothed over by a reform here or a tweak there. Last year the NYPD stopped and frisked 684,000 people! More than 85 percent of them were Black or Latino, and more than 90 percent of them were doing nothing wrong when the cops stepped to them. This year they’re on a pace to stop more than 800,000 people! Some Black youth report having been stopped and frisked 15 times in the last year alone.

This isn’t low-level cops taking things too far. All this has been championed from the top. Kelly and Bloomberg call stop-and-frisk the key to reducing crime rates in NYC. Cops have reported being pressured at their precincts to make more stops and arrests. So how the hell can closer supervision of cops on the beat do anything about the way stop-and-frisk enmeshes Blacks and Latinos in the criminal justice system?

Cuomo’s proposed legislation won’t do a damned thing about the bias at the heart of stop-and-frisk. It may mean fewer minority youth are arrested for marijuana possession when the cops stop them. (I say “may mean that” because in the fall of 2011, Kelly claimed that NYPD policy was to write people tickets, not arrest them, for marijuana found during a stop-and-frisk. But the arrests of Black and Latino youth found with marijuana in stops-and-frisks continued without let-up.) But it does nothing to address cops disproportionately stopping and frisking Blacks and Latinos. So maybe people will end up with violations, not misdemeanors, and will get tickets and fines instead of arrests. But they will continue to be put into the NYPD database that will be used against them if they get stopped again or if they get arrested and convicted because of stop-and-frisk. And if they fail to pay those fines, they could still end up with jail sentences.

This injustice can’t be reformed away. Stop-and-frisk must be ended. When slaves on the plantations rose in rebellion or escaped, they weren’t trying to get a half day off on Saturday. They wanted an end to slavery. When the Freedom Riders put their lives on the line in the 1960s, they weren’t trying to get more seats on the back of the bus. They were fighting to end Jim Crow segregation.

Today we need a massive and mass movement of resistance. Now is the time to step up the resistance. The authorities are in turmoil. We need to seize the initiative, take advantage of their turmoil and wage the kind of resistance that can STOP “Stop & Frisk” as part of fighting to end mass incarceration.

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond