It’s come down to this: the end of, “innocent until proven guilty.” That principle is not in the U.S. constitution. However, it’s been the policy that has guided law enforcement in this country for decades.
“Stop and frisk” is a practice whereby the police can stop someone in the street for no other reason than he or she “looks suspicious.” It doesn’t matter if a crime has been committed nearby. It doesn’t matter if the person matches the description of an alleged perpetrator. He or she can be stopped and given a body search simply due to his or her appearance.
Who will they stop? Will it be white men in suits, walking into bank’s corporate offices? Well, that hasn’t happened, so far. So far (and this is what the policy is designed for) the people who have been stopped have been people of very little means – people in poor neighborhoods wearing inexpensive clothing.
In 2011, the New York city police stopped people 685,724 times. Many of those were repeats, as some people got stopped multiple times. Of that number, 88 percent were innocent – in other words not carrying any weapons, drugs, nor rhinoceros tusks. Only 9 percent of the total were caucasians, even though causasians were almost twice as likely as other groups to be found carrying a weapon.
Stop and frisk is a policy that betrays the classism and racism of the security hawks, and it’s spreading. San Francisco is now considering making “stop and frisk” policy. Several other cities are either considering it or have implemented it at least to some degree.
Let me be clear. When I say it’s the end of “innocent until proven guilty,” I’m not talking about jail or prison. That goes on, too, but what I’m talking about is the violation of people’s rights to personal self and privacy.
I’m also talking about the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and the differences between the two groups’ experiences of “our” country and democracy. Stop and frisk seems another way to separate those who are valued in our society from those who are unwanted.
The danger, and what allows these policies to take hold, is that “normal,” middle-class, working people will think, “Oh, that won’t affect me. I don’t look suspicious and I don’t hang out in bad neighborhoods.” But in this, winner-take-all economy, so many lines are being blurred. The once-affluent wear out their clothes because they can’t afford new ones. They live in places they would not have considered before. They drive old cars.
But somehow the people who have managed to keep their jobs still have their attitude that, “That won’t happen to me.” As a result, they aren’t too concerned, and feel that the benefits of increased security outweigh the costs – whatever they may be.
I say the costs of an unjust society are much higher than the, “How does this affect me?” paradigm can measure. More and more of us lose power in this society every day. The Citizens United case in the Supreme Court has accelerated this phenomenon.
Take a stand against injustice, now. When the injustice comes into your house, it may be too late.
Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.