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Stop and Frisk Needs to Stop

[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]

This week New York City's "stop & frisk" tactics were deemed by Federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin to be unfairly slanted towards minorities and therefore unconstitutional and struck down.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg was not at all happy about the decision and vowed to appeal. He warned, "You're not going to see any change in tactics overnight."

Bloomberg insists that stop & frisk has kept people in his city safe, citing it as a main factor in the city's large drop in crime over the last several years. I think it's an investment in future crime. After all: All cities need some. It's a business.

When a young non-white male is stopped and searched at the whim of a police officer, his idea of personal space, privacy and self esteem are shattered, to say nothing of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment protections. The damage goes deep quickly and stays. Stop & frisk, as well as a tactic, is also an incitement. Not the best thing to engender good conduct and safer communities.

The person stopped is forever criminalized. This is not a preventative measure. It is an exercise in humiliation and emasculation. It works. Fear and resentment of law enforcement is often the result and perhaps the goal (again: the investment). To cleave a certain demographic off from the rest, isolate them, make them understand they are "other" and make that stick -- this is a huge part of stop & frisk. The damage done is irreparable. You might get better but you'll never forget it.

The enemy in America is the same as it's been for centuries: equality. From the first indentured servant and slave, a fraction of the country's population are kept down, generationally doomed to repeat history, so a man like mayor Bloomberg can assure the citizens that he's tough on crime. His happy statistics come with a price that will be paid by future generations. I believe him. I don't think there will be a "change in tactics" overnight -- in fact, I don't think there will be one at all.

All this made me think of my own history of stop & frisk.

 

As a young person growing up in Washington, D.C., this happened to me quite a few times. Standing in line outside of a local movie theater I was part of the target-rich environment. The usual routine was a few black kids would come up to me and ask if I had any money. Obviously, I did, as I was in line to buy a ticket but I would lie and say no.

This prompted the eternal question: "All I find I keep?" And so, in front of other movie goers, my pockets were gone through and my money was extracted. The effects are still with me to this day. My response to anything I perceive to be a threat is often wildly disproportional.

On one occasion, walking out of a drugstore, I was followed out by a security guard, who suspected me of shoplifting. I had not. He frisked me and let me go. This upset me very much. To this day, I look at merchandise in stores from a distance, trying to show any guard or overhead camera that I am not stealing. I keep grocery receipts for days and weeks after purchase in case I am asked to show exactly what I bought. I get nervous when I go into a store, don't find what I want and leave because I think I will be followed out and hassled by again. While this may sound utterly ridiculous -- it is the effect.

It was when I moved to Los Angeles in 1981 that I started getting stopped and frisked by the pros of the police department.

Walking to band practice down Artesia Blvd. in Redondo Beach was a common S&F opportunity. "Left hand behind your back, right hand behind your head!" the cop would yell. One of my index fingers would be grabbed and bent backwards, my back would arch, my pockets and gym back would be searched. I would often be called names. I would be asked where I was hiding my drugs. Eventually, I would be let go. I became very attuned to the sound of a police car's engine. They have a certain, well maintained sonic signature that has stayed with me. By 1984, I was being stopped and hassled up to three times a week.

 

There is not one single police officer in America that I am not afraid of and not one that I would trust to tell the truth or obey the laws they are sworn to uphold. I do not believe they protect me in any way. There is not one single statistic or report you can show me that will change my point of view or perception of law enforcement officers. I don't hate them but I fear them, all of them. To move from that would be a denial of what I have been through. In my case, the damage is done. It is too bad that it has to be this way but I didn't start it.

My treatment by police in America, while memorable, is incredibly lightweight by any standard, I know. What I am trying to say is that it doesn't take much.

My most memorable S&F experience happened many years ago in California. I was patted down by a man, who with his other hand, held a gun to my head. After he had ascertained that I wasn't armed myself, he relieved me of my forty dollars (all he found he kept). After that, I was informed later, he shot and killed my friend. I ran to a payphone and called 911. The police arrived and frisked me. It was a twofer.

Creating problems is easy. We do it all the time. Finding solutions, ones that last and produce good results, requires guts and care. I am sick of the shortsighted bullshit.

I hope you find what you're frisking for.

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