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Stop & Frisk: It’s About Our Rights

Dear Editor: 

A few months ago, my friend Jimmy was walking at night in an area of Rockaway “close to” where drug deals have been known to happen. He took a shortcut through an alley and found the police waiting for him at the other end. His “suspicious behavior” led to a stop and frisk. Once he showed his ID and established his innocence, he was allowed to proceed. 

Is Jimmy black, white or Hispanic? Does it really matter? This is not the way we do things in America. Don’t get me wrong. I am in favor of aggressive crime prevention tactics by the NYPD. I remember how many murders there were in the laissez-faire world before Mayor Giuliani. We cannot go back to those days. But we also need to realize Stop & Frisk has crossed a line. In America, citizens do not have to show authorities their papers. And, according to the Bill of Rights, we should be secure in our persons against unreasonable searches and seizures. This is a fundamental right for all Americans. The fact that NYPD is searching almost 2,000 people every day is clear evidence that people’s rights are being violated on a large scale. 

Still, the legal fight to end Stop & Frisk has just been delivered a major setback. Why? Because the NYCLU and others made the argument primarily about race, not rights. 

And because their ally, a liberal activist judge who allowed her personal prejudices to trump the law, just had her rulings overturned by the U.S. Appeals Court. Once again, people who derive their power by dividing the races have caused everybody to lose. 

We all need the NYPD to do its job well. If leaders and activists think they can win by pitting black against white or all policemen against all minorities, then the rest of us lose. 

That environment makes it impossible for us to have an open, meaningful discussion about which civil liberties we are willing –or not willing– to surrender in the name of safety. 

Assuming Bill de Blasio won the election this week, Stop & Frisk is going away come January. However, our need to reject those who divide us and to work together as Americans is as great as ever.