Sunday, December 18, 2011


When I read that Attorney General Eric Holder was accusing blowhard Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio of "unconstitutional policing," I was hoping the bill of particulars would include at least some charges that the average ill-informed American would find sufficiently shocking. But while I sincerely hope Arpaio goes down, I didn't see much that would make a low-information American care. Instead, I saw the likes of this:

The report said Latino drivers were four to nine times more likely to be stopped in the sprawling county, which includes Phoenix and its environs, than non-Latino drivers. The expert who conducted the study called it the most egregious racial profiling he had ever seen in this country....

If you're a well-informed New Yorker, that last claim just sounds ridiculous, as Nicholas K. Peart makes clear in a New York Times op-ed today:

Here are a few other facts: last year, the N.Y.P.D. recorded more than 600,000 stops; 84 percent of those stopped were blacks or Latinos. Police are far more likely to use force when stopping blacks or Latinos than whites. In half the stops police cite the vague "furtive movements" as the reason for the stop. Maybe black and brown people just look more furtive, whatever that means.

Peart isn't a pundit -- he's a 23-year-old black male who has (so far) been stopped and frisked five times by the police in New York City. Not with cause, and not respectfully, either:

One evening in August of 2006, I was celebrating my 18th birthday with my cousin and a friend. We were staying at my sister's house on 96th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan and decided to walk to a nearby place and get some burgers. It was closed so we sat on benches in the median strip that runs down the middle of Broadway. We were talking, watching the night go by, enjoying the evening when suddenly, and out of nowhere, squad cars surrounded us. A policeman yelled from the window, "Get on the ground!"

I was stunned. And I was scared. Then I was on the ground -- with a gun pointed at me. I couldn't see what was happening but I could feel a policeman's hand reach into my pocket and remove my wallet. Apparently he looked through and found the ID I kept there. "Happy Birthday," he said sarcastically. The officers questioned my cousin and friend, asked what they were doing in town, and then said goodnight and left us on the sidewalk....

Last May, I was outside my apartment building on my way to the store when two police officers jumped out of an unmarked car and told me to stop and put my hands up against the wall. I complied. Without my permission, they removed my cellphone from my hand, and one of the officers reached into my pockets, and removed my wallet and keys. He looked through my wallet, then handcuffed me.

... a white officer put me in the back of the police car. I was still handcuffed. The officer asked if I had any marijuana, and I said no. He removed and searched my shoes and patted down my socks. I asked why they were searching me, and he told me someone in my building complained that a person they believed fit my description had been ringing their bell. After the other officer returned from inside my apartment building, they opened the door to the police car, told me to get out, removed the handcuffs and simply drove off. I was deeply shaken.

This is just day-to-day life for black males in, I assume, every big city in the country -- and the vast majority of whites simply don't care. Even those of us who find it outrageous mostly don't feel motivated to do a damn thing about it.

If Holder thinks he's going to shock the conscience of America with reports that stops by Arpaio's department disproportionately target Latinos and blacks, he's naive. We've got a long way to go as a nation before that upsets the vast majority of us -- in fact, we've got a long way to go as a nation before it upsets more white Americans than it reassures.

Racial profiling is a bit like torture: we pay lip service to the notion that it shouldn't be done, but then we just declare that clear examples of it aren't examples of it at all, and walk away with a clear conscience.


On this same subject, I recommend "The Fat Blue Line," a 2008 monologue in which Richard Price, the novelist and writer for The Wire, recounts a blatant case of racial profiling that he witnessed while doing a ride-along with cops while researching his novel Lush Life. It's entertaining and appalling.

1 comment:

c u n d gulag said...

Too many American don't give a rat's-ass about this. And certainly no right-wingers.

Like you say, they give lip service to being against it.
But, I think, when push comes to shove, when there's no seat on the subway, train, or bus, I still think too many people might see a black or brown person and wish they were still required to either give-up their seat, or head to the back.

My argument may have too many strawmen, but I don't believe that makes it any less true.
You can still measure the amount of racism in this country with a foot-ruler, and not a micrometer.