Bob Herbert: An Easy Call


    This racist policy needs to stop – and stop now.

      That is a line from the third graf of Bob Herbert’s column this morning, An Easy Call.  The call is one that should be made by NY Governor David Paterson, to sign a bill that would

    prohibit the New York City Police Department from adding any more innocent individuals to its vast computerized database of personal information on the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers stopped, questioned and often frisked by police officers.

     As Herbert notes, the Governor is being urged to veto the bill by the likes of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and others.  

    Please keep reading.

    For some reason, the Herbert column did not make it to the morning Pundit roundup.  So I am taking the time to bring it to your attention.

    Read it.  Here again is the link.

    And in case you still have not read, or even if you have, allow me to highlight a few things.

    The bill is insufficient, but a necessary first step.  The stop and frisk practices of the NYC Police, themselves something that should be abhorrent to anyone who believes in civil liberties and probable cause, are unaffected by the bill.   The accumulation and retention of information flowing from these stops is redolent of a police state, of the Stasi of the German Democratic Republic, or for those of my generation, of the records kept by the military at Fort Holabird during the Vietnam period of those who opposed the government policy in that benighted conflict.  If we objected to the Army under Bush tracking Quakers who met to oppose Iraq, what then should we say about a local police force that wants to track primarily minorities who are not accused of any wrongdoing?

    Black and Latino New Yorkers are 9 times as likely as Whites to be stopped under this policy, but no more likely to be arrested.

    From 2004 through 2009, police officers stopped people on the street and checked them out nearly three million times, an astounding figure. Nearly 90 percent were completely innocent, minding their own business.

    If you are white, middle class, and well-dressed, you are highly unlikely to be stopped.

    If you are younger and of color???

    Is that discriminatory?

    I remember the New Jersey State Police being slapped down for a pattern of stopping minorities and those whites who were young with long hair.  There actions were deemed to be discriminatory.

    So are the actions of the NYC Police.

    Pray tell – how is what Ray Kelly and his police are doing any less offensive than what the law in Arizona which upsets so many people?  Why are not there calls for boycotts of New York City the way there are of Arizona?

    Let me return to Herbert:  

    These wholly unnecessary interactions with police officers are frequently traumatic and degrading. Men and women, boys and girls – in a vast majority of cases, black or Hispanic – are routinely ordered to sprawl face down on the sidewalk or in the street, or to spread-eagle themselves against a wall. They are frisked and often verbally humiliated. And I have been told time and again by people who have been through these encounters that police officers have threatened to charge them with disorderly conduct if they dared to raise any objections.

    If you object to your rights being violated, you are threatened with arrest.  And whether or not you are arrested, your information is added to a  data base which is the first stop for future police investigations.  

    The bill does not go far enough.  It only prohibits the police from adding further personally identifiable information to the data base of people stopped but not arrested.  It does not require them to remove any of the information they have already collected.  I might note that the Army was ordered to purge its database at Fort Holabird (not that it was particularly compliant with that order).  And there is nothing in this bill that requires the police to cease and desist from the massive stops that impose indignity and embarrassment and shame on New Yorkers of color.

    That most New Yorkers do not seem to care about the way young black and Latino New Yorkers are treated by the police does not make that treatment any less noxious or vile. And it doesn’t make it legal. Stopping and searching people without good reason is unconstitutional.

    Except, of course, under the Roberts Court, even the one Black justice would probably affirm what the police are doing.  And thus do our rights begin to be further eroded.

    People are made to feel low, intimidated, worthless, helpless. They dread the very sight of the police.

       When people begin to fear the Police, law and order begin to break down.  I again raise the question of an ancient Latin aphorism:  Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?   Who watches the watchmen?

    I am neither Black nor Hispanic.  I am a middle class, more than middle aged, white man.  I am unlikely to be stopped under this policy.  Which is why my objection, and objection of others like me, is critical on behalf of the basic rights of all.

    There are many versions of the famous statement by Pastor Martin Niemoller.  It is applicable to this.  Here is one version:  

    THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,

    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

    THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,

    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,

    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

    THEN THEY CAME for me

    and by that time no one was left to speak up.

    Denial of rights to any represents the threat of denial of rights to all.

    If I do not speak up now, if you do not speak up now, who will speak up when it is our rights in jeopardy?

    As Bob Herbert says, it is An Easy Call – or should be –

    .. for Governor Paterson

    .. for all of us

    What say you?


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