Over the years, I’ve heard from African‐American friends about their fears of being stopped by police for the “crime” of “driving while black.” On June 7, the Chicago Tribune (“ACLU: Racial disparities in state police searches”) reported that while driving, “Hispanics and African‐Americans were two to three times more likely to be searched for contraband even though white motorists were more likely to be found in possession of drugs, alcohol or weapons.”
The Illinois affiliate of the ACLU has asked the Department of Justice to investigate the Illinois State Police for racial bias. Is Attorney General Eric Holder interested?
I have been reporting for years in The Village Voice in New York City that the city’s police department (commanded by Commissioner Raymond Kelly) has, since 2003, “stopped and interrogated people nearly 3 million times, with blacks and Latinos (mostly just walking on the street) experiencing over 80 percent of the stops.
“According to (a) NYCLU lawsuit, ‘Even though nearly 90 percent of people stopped have done absolutely nothing unlawful — as evidenced by the fact that they are neither arrested or given a summons — the NYPD is entering the personal information of every person stopped into a Department database.’ ”
It is degrading for blacks, including youth, to be stopped and frisked — an event so common it can happen anywhere. On one occasion, I was coming out of The New School university on the street where I live. There were two black students, one of them holding an impressive, apparently new, briefcase. I overheard his friend saying to him: “I hope you’ve got a receipt for that. The cops, you know, will figure you stole it.”
Michael R. Bloomberg, New York City’s self‐proclaimed education mayor, has never criticized these color‐coded police stops and frisks, nor has he criticized Kelly, who was recently touted by influential New York Sen. Chuck Schumer to succeed Robert Mueller as FBI director when the latter’s term ends.
Former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert often reminded white New Yorkers: “People going about their daily business, bothering no one, are menaced out of the blue by the police, forced to spread themselves face down in the street, or plaster themselves against a wall, or bend over the hood of a car, to be searched.
“People who object to the harassment are often threatened with arrest for disorderly conduct” (“Jim Crow Policing,” The New York Times, Feb. 1, 2010).
This is New York City, not Birmingham, Ala., in the 1950s.
Michelle Alexander, a civil‐rights advocate and associate professor of law at Ohio State University, writes in her book The New Jim Crow (The New Press, 2010) that with nearly 2.4 million Americans in prison: