Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.
― Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal.
― Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
The morning after a federal judge ruled that “Stop, Question and Frisk (SQF)” as it was being practiced by the New York City police department was unconstitutional, I found myself watching the MSNBC television program Morning Joe hosted by former Congressman Joe Scarborough and journalist Mika Brzezinski. The topic of discussion was the ruling. The guest panelists were advertising executive Donny Deutsch, former New York State Governor George Pataki, journalist Mike Barnicle and Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. Robinson the lone person of color on the panel was not physically located in studio, but was offering commentary from a live video feed. Robinson’s physical absence was rather symbolic, it was clear that Deutsch, Barnicle and Pataki, all white males over the age of 50 were nicely insulated in their bubble of white male privilege, in which an appropriate space for black Eugene Robinson did not exist. The reality is that neither Deutsch, Barnicle, Pataki, or Scarborough have ever or will ever be the victims of racial profiling or any form of SQF. Their children and nephews will never be victims of ‘stop, question and frisk.’ It was quite clear that an empathy gap existed, where they simply could not put themselves in the shoes of a black or Latino male, to imagine the indignity and unfairness of being constantly stopped and frisked. Rather than argue against the inhumanity of the process they saw it as a necessary evil.
W.E.B DuBois in his landmark work The Souls of Black Folk, wrote about the double-consciousness of black Americans. It has occurred to me while black Americans may possess double-consciousness, and in my case being black, female, Haitian and American, I sometimes feel that I possess quadruple-consciousness. In my view some white Americans posses a singular-consciousness, which renders them incapable of perceiving, imagining and empathizing with the viewpoints, concerns and suffering of non-whites. It may be possible that no one in New York City posses a more singular-consciousness than its current mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg. Bloomberg is racially tone-deaf and insensitive and filled with zealous self-righteousness. Watching Bloomberg’s defiant post-ruling press conference, I saw shades of George Wallace 1963. On January 14, 1963, George Wallace as the newly elected governor of Alabama delivered an inaugural address, written by a known Ku Klux Klansman, Asa Carter, which has lived in infamy. Mr. Wallace declared “I draw the line in the dust at the feet of tyranny, segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Wallace assured white Alabamans that they were going to let Washington know that were not going to abide by federal decisions against segregation in the south. In the same manner Bloomberg accompanied by police commissioner Ray Kelly, let white New Yorkers know that were not going to abide by the ruling of the federal judge, its goings to be, stop and frisk today, stop and frisk tomorrow, stop and frisk forever.
Bloomberg’s message was intended for white New Yorkers. He was was not addressing his comments to the black and Hispanic communities who together make-up about 50% of New York City’s population, but account for almost 83% of the people who are stopped and frisked. The black and Hispanic men of New York City do not want to be constantly stopped and frisked. Black and Hispanic mothers and fathers do not want their sons to constantly be the subject of police scrutiny. Black and Hispanic women do not want their brothers, husbands, uncles and nephews to be constantly stopped and frisked. If Bloomberg or Kelly ever took the time to ask the black and Hispanic community how they wanted issues like crime addressed in their neighborhoods, instead of paternalistically assuming that they know what is best for these communities, they would discover that black and Hispanic communities in New York are wholeheartedly against Stop and Frisk.
In his press conference denouncing the judge’s ruling Bloomberg stated “I worry for my kids and I worry for your kids”, really Mike? You are worried about Emma and Georgina Bloomberg? Are you worried that some random black or Hispanic man is going to try to steal equestrian Georgina’s horse? In George Wallace’s day among the rationale for the indiscriminate lynching of black men was the need to protect the virtue of white women. Bloomberg evoking concern about his two white daughters, who are living a life of privilege, far removed from the poor black and Hispanic communities where young black and Hispanic men have to deal with police harassment everyday is ludicrous. Bloomberg showed he had no concern whatsoever for black and Hispanic children when he appointed his thoroughly unqualified friend Cathleen P. Black to be the chancellor of New York City’s Public Schools. To Bloomberg’s assertion that he is concerned about minority children, I think black mothers would say to him, Mr. Bloomberg, your blues ain’t like ours. If you want to know about the ‘blues’ of black mothers, go speak with Patrick Dorismond’s mother, go speak with Amadou Diallo’s mother, or go speak with Abner Louima’s mother.
Writing in the New York Times Michael Powell described Bloomberg and Kelly this way in their Monday press conference
They are the aging Dead End twins, the billionaire mayor with his Hamptons-by-way-of-Bermuda tan and the square-jawed, crew-cut commissioner. Again and again, they displayed a fossil-like rigidity, refusing to concede even a jot of a point to the federal judge who imposed a monitor on the Police Department, or to the many critics who warned so often that a once-reasonable stop-and-frisk program had metastasized.
The panelists on Morning Joe, all accepted Kelly and Bloomberg’s argument that Stop and Frisk is an effective crime prevention tactic (“evidence…suggest that stop and frisk is, at best, ineffective, and, at worst, actively alienates communities with whom the police need to engage”) but it was never about the effectiveness of stop and frisk as a crime prevention tactic, it was about whether or not targeting a specific group of New York’s population (aka racial profiling) was constitutional, the judge ruled that it was not. On Page 2 of her opinion, Judge Scheindlin writes,
“I emphasize at the outset, as I have throughout the litigation, that this case is not about the effectiveness of stop and frisk in deterring or combating crime. This Court’s mandate is solely to judge the constitutionality of police behavior, not its effectiveness as a law enforcement tool. Many police practices may be useful for fighting crime—preventive detention or coerced confessions, for example—but because they are unconstitutional they cannot be used, no matter how effective.
Bloomberg and his ilk understand that the constitution is the supreme law of the land, maybe the confusion for them is whether the constitution applies to black and brown folk. After all, the United States Constitution originally counted black persons as three-fifths of a man. “We the People,” originally referred to white property owning males like Michael Bloomberg, and today in 2013 it is still being debated whether the constitution’s protection extends to non-whites.