By Christopher “Flood the Drummer®” Norris
5.10.16: Philadelphia – (Politics): The Mayor of Philadelphia’s police reforms aren’t connecting with critics of stop-and-frisk due to their belief that he, instead of ending the practice as promised, is manipulating language to portray a political paradigm wherein officers engaging only in constitutional pedestrian stops, but not less frequently than they are now, is equal to eliminating the tactic, which was his campaign promise.
Said another way, because Mayor Jim Kenney defines stop-and-frisk solely as a pedestrian stop lacking reasonable suspicion, his effort to prevent unconstitutional stops through rigid progressive discipline and accountability measures constitute, in his opinion, a kept, not broken, promise; though critics contend that stop-and-frisk isn’t solely the matter of reasonable suspicion or the lack thereof, but, too, includes frequency, brashness and, most importantly, racial disparities.
What Mr. Kenney has done thus far related to police reform isn’t for naught: under his predecessor, officers could, in the name of public safety, violate a person’s constitutional rights and face no consequences. But, what he’s achieved doesn’t fully live up to the expectations of some voters who were anticipating the end of stop-and-frisk, and that’s because their expectations were unrealistic, as was Mr. Kenney’s campaign promise itself.
Stop-and-frisk – a policing tactic which derives its power from a Supreme Court ruling that allows officers to stop someone they believe might or may have already committed a crime and, upon reasonable suspicion that the person is armed, pat-down their outer clothing – can’t be ended but only moderated. In other words, though officers will always have the right to stop someone, the why, when and how these stops occur are variables that can be controlled – just as in 2007 when a resolution was adopted to grant hearings in Philadelphia on expanding the use of stop-and-frisk, so, too, should the people be heard on reigning in the practice, particularly since the ramping up of stop-and-frisk in 2008 led to a 2010 class action lawsuit and a 2011 consent decree between the ACLU PA and the Philadelphia Police Department.
Among the first things critics want to hear from Mr. Kenney is that the promise of ending stop-and-frisk was easier said than done, and that it more likely it won’t be fully realized due to circumstances beyond the control of local government; though significant reforms to the process, in addition to the implementation of progressive discipline, is warranted and plausible. A model for such reform is within reach of Mr. Kenney.
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In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who campaigned not on ending stop-and-frisk but rather reforming it, achieved part of his goal within his first year: in 2013, when Mr. de Blasio was elected, there was 191,558 people stopped and in 2014 there were only 45, 787, though African-Americans remained disproportionately impacted by the practice (685,000 stops in 2011 – 22,000 in 2015).
Another statement that stop-and-frisk critics are hoping Mr. Kenney utters is that pedestrian stops will be less harsh in terms of officers’ contact with citizens. Focusing efforts on ensuring officers have reasonable suspicion before stopping someone doesn’t really mitigate the level of force used or behavior exhibited by officers when said stops are executed. Though the law says police officers can stop someone, question them, and if necessary, pat-down their outer-clothing, what often happens on the street is that citizens are accosted, sometimes denigrated, and have the contents of their pockets emptied unwillingly.
According to prominent Philadelphia attorney, Mr. Michael Coard, Philly’s style of stop-and-frisk “violates Terry v. Ohio.”
In Terry v. Ohio, said Mr. Coard, the officers did a good job in not immediately reacting to the gentlemen they suspected of preparing to commit a crime but instead observed carefully and gained “articulable suspicion.” If the Philadelphia Police Department simply followed the case law, Mr. Coard asserts, few reforms would be required.
Maybe the most radical of statements critics desire to hear from the City’s chief executive – both on the issue of stop-and-frisk and in the larger context, policing – is that race, moreover institutional racism, plays a leading role in how neighborhoods are policed. And more than just articulating a truth, those critics want to see meaningful change in their current reality. A high crime area is the justification given as to why police frequently stop black and brown citizens, but these stops rarely result in criminal charges or guns, and their impact on crime remains debated, with critics having the more succinct and persuasive stance.
Mrs. Hillary Clinton, in Philadelphia weeks ago, said the argument for stop-and-frisk doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.
Mr. Kenney, who endorsed Mrs. Clinton, understands clearly the racial disparities in policing. It was he, not the black lawmakers in City Hall, who pushed for the decriminalization of marijuana. But his reasoning went beyond the racial disparities and extended into efficiency of government. Too much manpower was being wasted on arresting Philadelphians for small amounts of marijuana, Mr. Kenney argued.
That same argument is valid for the issue of stop-and-frisk. 200,000 people are being stopped annually and it’s having minimal impact on riding the streets of guns and its exacerbating tensions between the police and the communities they serve. Whereas, it was Mr. Kenney who said his goal as Mayor is to run an efficient and effective government, stop-and-frisk critics have an expectation that he will address the misuse of policing resources and why the program yields virtually no dividends.
To be clear, Mr. Kenney didn’t create the problem of stop-and-frisk, he inherited it from Mr. Michael A. Nutter, who, despite popular belief, didn’t implement the policing tactic but rather exploited it to calm a sizable portion of the populous who was concerned about the deadly gun violence the City was experiencing in the late 2000s. And the strain between the black and brown community and Mayor Kenney has, by some, been dramatized; though that’s not to say a strain doesn’t currently exist. There’s certainly right now a sense of betrayal among those who expected one thing and was delivered another.
That trust and admiration, I believe, can be restored, but Mr. Kenney must say all or some of what local stop-and-frisk critics want to hear and then work even harder than he’s working right now to remedy the maladies in policing that are too real to deny.
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Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
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