From slavery days where free blacks had to show their papers or risk becoming the property of a white slave owner to today’s stop and frisk laws in New York, racial profiling is so ingrained in our society that it is now the norm. I won’t say it’s the new norm because racial profiling has been going on for as long as blacks have been in America. There is no simple fix and there is no such thing as “post racial” society. As the Motown Four Tops song says, it’s the same old song but with a different beat this time.
In May, 2010, a lawsuit was filed against the New York City Police Department to stop storing in a database the names and information of persons who were stopped and frisked, arrested but without a criminal conviction. And just last week, the New York Police Department agreed to purge those names and information in their database, in compliance with a 2010 law. It’s ironic that the courts and a lawsuit had to get the police to be law abiding and compliant with the law. The settlement mandates that the purge must take place within 90 days. This is just one of several lawsuits involving New York City police Department’s Stop and Frisk law. One case has yet to go to trial. The federal class action is on behalf of hundreds of thousands of persons.
The New York Police Department unabashedly and apologetically failed to see the problem with the Stop and Frisk laws. That goes ditto for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the staunch supporter of the law. In 2010, the NYPD recorded over 600,000 stops with 84% of them being black or Latino. And the argument of reducing the crime rate while harassing and targeting innocent persons does not hold water or statistics.
The statistics do not really get to the heart of the real problem. They don’t tell the whole story. The problem is how young blacks and Latinos routinely feel humiliated, degraded and embarrassed at times for doing daily everyday tasks like coming out of their homes, walking in their neighborhood, going to work, going to church, the gym, visiting family and friends and God forbid standing in groups of two or more.
It was not until I read a heart wrenching December 17, 2011 New York Times Op Ed by Nicholas K. Peart, a young black man who told of his encounters with Stop and Frisk with the police, that I fully grasped the emotional issue and toll on our young black and Latino men and boys. Peart tells of being warned by his mother at age 14 to always carry ID and not panic if he were stopped by the police. He was stopped by the police three times, frisked, searched, ID’d and let go on for no apparent reason other than the police could legally do it. His New York Times Op Ed sadly speaks of his first stop and frisk as almost a rite of passage and adds real voice to the statistics. Imagine not being able to walk down the street as a young black man in New York without fear of being stopped, frisked, cuffed, arrested for no reason and you have the gist of the Stop and Frisk law. And Peart tells of the fear, horror and humiliation felt by those who experience it.
Now go back in time to slavery times, when freed blacks had to carry papers with them at all times and be subjected to being stopped, questioned and searched. During slavery times, freed blacks had to carry freedom papers or certificates of freedom declaring their free status. Some freed slaves had to have an affidavit attesting to their freedom. Many, if prudent, would file their papers with the recorder of deeds office in the county where they resided, in the event of a loss of their paper. The fear for freed blacks of being returned to slavery was no doubt greater than that experienced today.
Blacks no longer are subjected to slavery but to jail. And isn’t jail just another word for slavery? Racial profiling did not just begin. And it has never ended since it began.
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who addresses race and gender issues in the law. She is frequently seen in the media on Arise Tv, RT-America and Washington, DC affiliates of Fox, NBC and CBS. She contributes to the Women’s Media Center and the Huffington Post.