heather mac donald vs weak liberal arguments for stop and frisk reform

Yesterday’s silent Father’s Day march against stop and frisk in New York City was well attended and, if you go by Twitter, life-changing. But if reformers are interested in change they should revisit some of their liberal arguments against the policy that notched 700,000 stops–nearly 90 percent innocent–of residents mainly in minority neighborhoods last year.

Daryl Hannah’s jilted Elle Driver surveys the comatose Bride in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol 1 (2003)

I’ve been following conservative, Heather Mac Donald’s writing on crime and race for years. It’s hard not to when a white woman subtitles her book, Are Cops Racist?: How the war against the police harms black Americans. Of course such care puts me in the mind of an angel of mercy stalking her patient with a cutlass and a smile.

But, glibness aside, Mac Donald has been busy of late. Most recently, as they say around my way, she went in on Tyquan Brehon who described his adolescent experiences with stop and frisk. Before that, it was governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to lower the penalty for publicly-viewed possession of small amounts of marijuana. And so on.

For all of Mac Donald’s objectionable points about blacks, public safety and law enforcement however, I have always agreed with one or two. That’s due to an oversight in liberal arguments that here, I’ll attempt to fix. While I follow her work, Mac Donald tends to create enemies out of all critics of the NYPD and scolds the opposition for tabling unfavorable information–as she does, too. That tells me the speaker has a difficult time defending their position by honest means. I only bring her up to highlight the liberal argument against stop and frisk that keeps her fed.

The weakest liberal argument, also repeated by residents of high crime neighborhoods, is that the NYPD disproportionately deploys stop-and-frisk in minority neighborhoods. Please shoo this fly; it’s a hanger-on to what’s otherwise a solid federal case. The argument begs silly comparisons between the South Bronx and Manhattan’s Upper East Side as well as the number of blacks stopped in proportion to their population count in the Census or in prison, and ignores the prevalence of street crime and gang and gun violence in minority neighborhoods and the victims of those crimes. This last omission rightly draws Mac Donald’s attention.

It gives her an ‘in’ to not only mock the liberal’s (a white civil liberties-type, in Mac Donald’s view) dim grasp of living in the ‘hood but paint herself the champion of black residents who’re disgusted by and do not partake in violence or crime. (I’d be shocked if Mac Donald ever included victims of crime in her advocate schtick, seeing as they and perpetrators are very often one and the same.) But on the point of law-abiding black residents, we agree: they deserve to be heard and their needs met.

Stops are one of those ways–but as suggested by the NYPD’s own data, along with evidence culled from whistle-blowers and the depth, breadth and similarity of anecdotal evidence from residents in the city’s high-stops areas–not with the frequency nor manner in which they’re currently practiced. Ignoring that mountain of evidence, as Mac Donald does, displays a reliance on faith–in what, is open to interpretation. But it’s not logic.

To my mind, acknowledging the crime and victim rates in urban minority neighborhoods does not and could never undermine the strongest argument for reform of stop and frisk: minorities don’t commit crime, individuals do. ‘Black people’ didn’t shoot a mother of four, Miss Mary’s son in Apt 4G did. ‘Latinos’ didn’t rob a 14-year-old kid, Ray who used to run errands for the bodega owner did. Repeat that distinction 24/7. Tactically, it sets a high bar for any critic to disagree without also confirming their own prejudices that all blacks are criminals, all Latinos are criminals. Or, it forces critics like Mac Donald to push un-American arguments that unite liberals and true conservatives:

There is no question that many truly law-abiding people have been stopped by the New York police, an experience that is infuriating and humiliating. The higher risk of getting stopped is a tax that law-abiding blacks pay for living in high-crime neighborhoods.

I’ve re-read those two sentences about 20 times now. By the third re-reading I’d started to imagine the speaker reclining on a lounge chair near a turquoise pool sipping one of those umbrella pineapple drinks and shrugging, Oh well. It never ceases to piss me off.

Arguments can be made that in certain neighborhoods, crime is so God awful that special measures undermining the individual protections guaranteed by the Constitution are needed. The thing is, our system of government relies on a purposely cumbersome tool for implementing God awfully big revisions to the American social contract. It’s called a constitutional amendment.

PS: If you’ve read this far, also check out my recent article on alternatives to stop and frisk.


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