The Return of Stop-and-Frisk
And how it shows we must defund the police
The other day, walking down the street, I saw four young Black men standing up against a car as four NYPD cops interrogated them. Three older folks from the block who knew these young men were also attempting to ask the police what exactly had happened. As I stuck around with my phone out for a bit just to be another body watching, and recording, the first thing I noticed was the unmarked car the uniformed officers had gotten out of. The second thing I noticed that the egregious thing these young Black men had apparently done was smoke marijuana, which is now legal in NY. There are some gray areas but any New Yorker can testify without a shadow of a doubt that cannabis is treated as fully legal on the streets on this city, in our park, and certainly in more expensive neighborhoods. But the cops had apparently decided these men needed to get written up on questionable pretenses. In fact, as I observed, the vague memory of an article from a little while back jangled around in the back of head. I was fairly sure I had seen something about the NYPD illegally bringing back stop-and-frisk, an approach ruled unconstitutional a decade ago, which had made me double down on my resolve to defund the police.
When I got home I promptly pulled up the article, and confirmed what I’d suspected. A decade ago the stopping and searching of supposedly random people was ruled illegal and in violation of the constitution, largely because the vast majority of people stopped under this procedure were in fact people of color, mostly young Black and brown men. Now the NYPD has brought the tactic back, in clear violation of the ruling from 2013. And this time they have managed to be even more racist in their implementation. As the New York City publication Gothamist recently reported 95% percent of their people stopped in the recent resurgence of stop-and-frisk have been people of color. So not only are the Adams’ administration and the police breaking the law themselves, they’ve somehow done so in a way that is even more unlawful than the former version that was so racist it was ruled unconstitutional.
Eric Adams and the NYPD are now accidentally making the perfect argument for defunding the police. If cops are above the law, refuse to obey the law, and push back against reform to the point of non-compliance, we have little other choice but to decrease their money and power.
And this isn’t just happening in New York, it’s happening everywhere. Early this year Pittsburgh Police officers were told by their department to resume enforcing minor traffic violations despite a city ordinance passed to prevent them from doing so in the absence of a larger infraction. They simply chose to violate the law because they want to keep their money and their power. Likewise, this month Utah officials started to speak out about police departments breaking the law by refusing to do paperwork that helps people find out where their car has been towed. This case is an egregious example of police having no interest in helping people, so much so that they’re willing to break the law to avoid serving the public.
There is of course a far worse, nationwide example of how police break the law, get away with it, and refuse to change—which is that cops refuse to stop killing people. In fact police are now killing people at at even higher rate than they were in 2020. Last year police killings in the United States reached the highest level ever, according to The Guardian. And according to the important Mapping Police Violence project they are on pace to kill almost the same number this year, having already killed 672 people. In total, police officers have killed at least 15,000 people since 2005. In that time 7 of them have been convicted of murder. Seven.
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This is why we have to limit police money and power. Outlawing headlocks, instituting body cams, and millions of dollars for bias training haven’t worked. The endless attempts at reform that have persisted for decades have led to unaccountable and deadly forces in every municipality in the United States. What should be simple and common-sense changes to police, like “don’t stop people of color or anyone without cause and search them as they walk around their neighborhoods” haven’t worked. In fact these directives are blatantly ignored. Civic oversight is regularly disregarded, violating one of the most crucial and central tenants of democracy, which is that armed agents of the state should be accountable to democratically elected leadership. Even something as fundamental as “don’t kill people,” which should not have to be taught and instilled into people, is flagrantly ignored without consequence.
This is why police must be defunded. This is why abolition must be the aim. It’s true that abolitionists don’t have the answer to every crime that will ever be committed in the future, but it’s also true that people have thought deeply about the harms of the world and have been developing systems and practices and frameworks for a better world without police. The other core truth is that our present reality is untenable, and we have to believe that something better can be created. A system that actually prioritizes safety, where multiple people aren’t killed by state agents every day, and where police forces don’t drain public coffers to build Cop Cities and feed their overtime budgets are possible.
Defund, which is and should be the indisputable compromise, has been deemed radical by conservative media and a wave of reaction to the George Floyd uprising of 2020. Because in truth spending $12 billion on the NYPD, for example, when the evidence makes clear that stable housing, economic opportunity, healthcare and broadly providing the resources people need to thrive actually does far more than police to prevent violence, is absurd. Cops routinely soar over their allotted overtime budget, and city councils and mayors shrug and increase their budgets. Meanwhile homeless services, mental health services, and education budgets shrink. We know what we can do to create the conditions where violence doesn’t arise as much in the first place, rather than spending endlessly to send armed people into situations after the violence has come and gone. Not only that, we know what we can do to prevent violence instead of sending violent police in who often raise tension, escalate situations, and create more violence. So we must stick to the demand to limit police funding and power. We have to stick to the demand to defund police and shrink their role in society, instead of giving into fear mongering, dishonest propaganda campaigns about crime, and the narrow idea that armed police forces are the only way to address crime. A better world, without cops who disregard the law, suppress social justice movements, and kill without consequence, is possible. Let’s organize and make that world a reality.
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