Silencing Ray Kelly, But To What End?

800px-NYPD_cars_line_upNew York City Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly probably isn’t used to being challenged by anyone – at least not face to face.

But when he visited Brown University this past Tuesday, Kelly was not just challenged, but practically swept away in a wave of anger by students protesting the controversial Stop and Frisk policy, implemented under the auspices of Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Kelly was invited to Brown to give a lecture titled Proactive Policing in America’s Biggest City. Protestors filled the hall with jeers, preventing him from speaking. In a video posted on YouTube, Kelly silently stands at the podium as university administrators plead for calm. In a conciliatory tone, an administrator says, “We’re asking that you let him speak.” To that, a voice replies, “We’re asking that you stop stopping and frisking people.” The audience cheers. Kelly’s scheduled lecture is then derailed beyond the point of no return. The national media has picked up on the story, with reports of Kelly being “booed off the stage” in publications as diverse as The Atlantic, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal.

The explanation of why these students were so incensed is pretty simple. Stop and Frisk has been a reality of New York policing for the past decade. In 2011 alone, over 680,000 New Yorkers were deemed suspicious enough to be stopped and searched by the NYPD. 92% were male and 87% were African-American or Latino.

Stop and think about those demographics for a second. In a city as diverse as New York, the vast majority of people who looked like they could possibly be suspected of wrongdoing come from historically marginalized groups. 25.5% of New Yorkers are African-American and 28.6% are Latino. 47.5% of them are men. What does your life become when knowing that the way you look makes you a constant target of police suspicion? When you can be stopped and searched at nothing more than the whim of one police officer?

In 98.5% of 2.3 million stops over the past ten years, no weapons were found at all.

That brings us back to Commissioner Kelly and his ill-fated lecture. The protestors got what they wanted – Kelly was disrupted and the national media is all over it. But given the long tradition of free speech as the core of the university, should we be applauding the tactics taken by the Brown protestors? Silencing Ray Kelly on the stage of an Ivy League university does not get us any closer to eliminating the prejudices of Stop and Frisk. Silencing Ray Kelly will not lend a voice to the people who have had to live under Stop and Frisk. Silencing Ray Kelly puts mostly just gives more attention to Ray Kelly.

The most viable way of modifying Stop and Frisk comes when those who live under it take a stand. In August, a federal judge ruled the policy unconstitutional after people who felt unfairly targeted brought it to court under a class-action lawsuit. That is progress. These are the type of efforts that deserve our energy.

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1 Comment

  1. Stop and frisk was not implemented by Bloomberg and Kelly. It is a decades old policy.

    The district judge you mention–the one to whom you attribute “progress”–was removed from the case by an appeals court for running “afoul of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges.” This same appeals court granted a stay in the district court’s “Opinion and Order,” “Liability Opinion,” and “Remedies Opinion.” In short, the ruling that ordered changes to Stop, Question, and Frisk was blocked.

    That’s another thing; the policy is Stop, Question, and Frisk, not just Stop and Frisk. This is an important piece of information that many people overlook. Moreover, many, many people that are stopped then questioned are never frisked.

    Your statement that “the vast majority of people who looked like they could possibly be suspected of wrongdoing come from historically marginalized groups” is horribly presumptuous. You should have said “the vast majority of people who were stopped were minorities.” Saying they “LOOKED like they COULD POSSIBLY BE suspected of wrongdoing” makes an assumption about the officers’ mindset, and you are insinuating an institutionalized racism.

    But why not consider alternative viewpoints, if even just for the purpose of trying to dispel them?

    Just a few, random thoughts to consider:

    -The program is successful, and it’s hard (possible, but hard) to deny that. There were 2,605 homicides in 1990 in New York, and only 414 in 2012. There were five or so big policy changes in that time period, but stop and frisk was the hallmark.

    -Why are so many more black and hispanic people being stopped than white people? The truth, while truly unfortunate and uncomfortable to say, is that young black men (and young hispanic men to a lesser extent) are more likely to engage in crime (and to be victims of crime, as well).

    -The majority of police officers in New York City are minorities.

    -Up to 75% of violent crime victims in NY describe the attacker as a black male. A point that Kelly and Bloomberg have both raised, and one that seems valid to me, is that it is unfair to compare the number of minorities stopped to the total percentage of minorities in the city, and that the number of minorities stopped should actually be compared to the percentage of perpetrators of crimes that are reported to be minorities.

    As a final note, what the audience at Brown did was shameful bordering on disgusting. It is not like Brown invited Ahmadinejad to speak as Columbia did some years ago. The speaker has a career of distinguished service to his country and to others: police commissioner, Marine, Interpol vice president, U.S. Customs commissioner, etc. His policies are designed to keep NYC streets safe, and disagreeing with a person’s policies is not reason enough in this case to disrespect the person. Kelly has turned the NYPD into a world-class counterterrorism operation. He’s attended black churches to recruit minority police officers. He led a force in Haiti responsible for ending human rights violations. Hell, the man was Obama’s first choice to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security!

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