was that Mayor Michael Bloomberg felt forced to publicly defend the New York Police Department's policy rather than blithely ignore the protest -- and that when pressed, he had no coherent defense to offer.
Stop & Frisk, as you may know, is the NYPD policy of stopping and frisking any person at any time without any probable cause except an officer's feeling that s/he wants to. It's a civil liberties and crime-fighting disaster as well as a human rights obscenity. As I've mentioned earlier in citing New York Civil Liberties Union and NYPD data, nearly 9 in 10 of the stopped and frisked persons are entirely innocent and are not arrested, more than 8 in 10 are black or Latino, and by the current trend more than 700,000 New Yorkers will be arbitrarily stopped and frisked in 2011.
In a protest against the Stop & Frisk policy last Friday in front of the 28th Police Precinct station in Harlem, Princeton professor Cornel West, Revolutionary Communist Party co-founder Carl Dix, Riverside Church Pastor Rev. Stephen Phelps, and dozens of others, including Occupy Wall Street participants from Zuccotti Park, either underwent or risked arrest. The march and standoff in front of the station received widespread media coverage, including stories in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Black Entertainment Television, New York Post, Daily Kos, and elsewhere.
All of this denied Mayor Bloomberg the luxury of ignoring the protest. And his response showed how little defense he could muster. This from an October 21 NYT story:
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg defended the [stop & frisk] tactic on his Friday morning radio show on WOR.
“It’s used in communities where we have lots of guns and lots of murder victims,” he said. “And we’ve brought crime down 35 percent in the last 10 years. We have — I don’t know — I don’t think we’re going to set a record for low murders, but we’ll have the second best year in the history of the city this year, and there’s a reason for those things, and this is one of the tactics.
“People say, ‘Oh, you can do it without that’; well, you know you have — nobody is ever going to — some people don’t want you to do anything,” Mr. Bloomberg said.
The result of doing nothing, he said, would be “a society you can’t live in.”
So Hizzoner, caught embracing a policy that is 90% ineffective and 80% racially targeted, could come up with nothing better to say than, in effect, Well, an unconstitutional policy is better than nothing, especially if it saves lives. As if the only alternative to doing nothing is to create a police state in the City of New York. As if a street sweep with a 90% failure rate is any kind of step toward public safety. As if a viciously racist police protocol is the best we can ask of a city where the rich have more money than they can ever spend and the poor have nothing.
One of the interesting things about the NYT story is that reader comments showed an overwhelming outrage about the injustice of Stop & Frisk. I've said it before and I'm going to keep saying it: We are entering a moment of critical mass in which the dishonest bleatings of corporate politicians and the evasive narratives of corporate journalists are, for most Americans, butting up against the inescapably brutal realities of plutocracy. This is why more than 70% of Americans favor a Millionaires Tax; why the Occupy Wall Street movement has caught fire; and why most Americans mistrust their government, not because they dislike government per se but because they viscerally understand that this government works for the rich and not for us. This raw reality, in spite of the contrived wedges of Tea Party racism and Educated Liberal contempt for "rednecks," is the thread that connects the American left with the right. And with the innately deaf and blind hubris of Washington's monied masters, it is a thread of awareness that will only strengthen with time.
So let's conclude with a comment posted to the NYT story on Friday by "Jrcnyc," whose only error is in thinking that Cornel West is "leading" a movement when, in fact, West simply enjoys the conspicuousness of celebrity in expressing this collaborative (and widely-shared) train of thought. Jrcncy writes:
The mayor's defense of Stop and Frisk is so muddled and unclear that it's almost laughable - except for the fact that hundreds of thousands of New York citizens have their civil rights violated every year because of it. The fact that he's so off-message on such a divisive and unconstitutional policy reveals an underlying fact: that his administration is racist.
If the police were frisking and stopping white, wealthy New Yorkers for any reason -- any reason -- his office would have to regularly justify that policy with coordinated PR campaigns, with press conferences, and with sound-bytes purchased from high-price consultants. The fact that they can evade an obviously common-sense protest by Dr. West with stuttering reasons and no hard evidence is extremely revealing. For an office obsessed with proving all matters of policy with numbers, the only ones he points to are murder numbers. Murders? This policy isn't preventing murders. Prove it.
The anti-stop and frisk chants and signs hovering within the Occupy Wall Street movement are part of a new trend that holds people in power accountable for their abuses. Dr. West is leading a spear of logic and passion that's going to blow a hole open in this issue, and more people will pour through it. For people living in stop and frisk communities, this issue has festered long enough on the margins of public discourse. It's time to act.
Let the Mayor be warned: the protest is a warm-up exercise. If the policy isn't changed, the London-style riots Bloomberg evoked are going to get set off soon enough. The NYPD has no more symbolic good-will left after 9-11. It's a different country and a different city now. His third term will either be marked by a legacy of justice or one of social explosion. So far, he's chosen to bury his head in the sand, muttering about policies he can't explain.
It's never too late to look in the mirror. New York needs to do so tonight.