From ColorLines comes this excellent video, and accompanying story, of what it feels like to be stopped and frisked by police in Brownsville, Brooklyn. That neighborhood, along with nearby neighborhoods of Crown Heights and East New York, are some of the “Impact Zones” flooded with police officers to address the sorts of low-level, quality-of-life crimes police departments believe lead to more violence. The goal is to stop individuals under legal authority to do so, no matter how tenuous the premise, and frisk them to determine if they have drugs or weapons.
The truth is, such policies probably do work to curb some violence. If it’s ok to carry a gun around, it’s much more possible that arguments that could end peacefully will instead escalate to violence. The problem is, as Chris Mitchell noted in his New York Magazine piece a few years ago, the goal of ending all murders is going to, necessarily, start butting up against individual rights. At some point, the potential for murder is a necessary consequence of living in a free world with other flawed humans.
I always try to use the above argument as an example to conservatives that I can acknowledge some things are true, but still disapprove of them because they don’t align with my values. So, it’s true that stop-and-frisk policies probably contribute to the basket of tactics that help save lives. But I’m not sure the cost we pay, that the citizens of Brownsville live in a police state, is worth it, especially since the people who usually have to put up with those kinds of intrusions of state power are poor and brown. At what level it’s worth it, and at what level it’s too much of an intrusion, are the first conversations we should be having about policing, but we’re not. In the meantime, such policies serve only to exacerbate the already worn tensions between police departments and communities of color.