Why "Stop and Frisk” is Bad Policy

By James King


Recently, President Trump called for Chicago police officers to use "stop and frisk" tactics as an antidote to the high crime rates in the city. Trump is a former resident of New York, where those tactics were first deployed in what some consider a successful manner. The incidents of violence indeed decreased during the years "stop and frisk” policies were executed in New York, but no one was able to prove that "stop and frisk" caused the decrease. At the same time, social justice reformers became increasingly concerned about the ways these policies violated the rights of people in communities of color. That's because "stop and frisk" was often indistinguishable from racial profiling.

President Trump and others who advocate for “stop and frisk" seem to make the calculation that violating a few rights is fine if it decreases violent crime and saves lives. On the surface, this may seem like a reasonable argument, but as a person of color who grew up in Ferguson, Missouri when it was still a predominately white suburb of St. Louis, I want to offer a different perspective.

As a black kid in Ferguson, I was routinely stopped, searched, and questioned by the police in my hometown. It wasn't because of crime, indeed, the crime rates in Ferguson were low at the time, and I personally wasn't committing any crimes anyway. During those years, I was a socially awkward middle school student and an only child who was going through the typical childhood issues of identity and self-esteem. Both of my parents worked, so after school, I'd go to a friend's house, or to a cousin's house who lived nearby, and typically return home after dark. It seemed like if the police saw me, they'd stop me. I began to walk alternative routes home, and duck into the bushes if I saw the familiar headlights of cops' Impala.

The officers were treating me like a criminal, and I was beginning to act like one too. It's a powerful thing when you realize the police in your community see you as one of the bad guys. Our relationship became increasingly hostile. As I grew older, I'd curse them out or mock their questions. They in turn, considered my response to their stops as evidence of my criminality.

To be clear, I cannot reduce my motivations for the criminal activity I eventually engaged in to these interactions with the police. What I can say is, when I finally started committing crimes, I did not in any way, feel I was breaking some social contract with my community. If anything, I felt like I was paying my neighborhood back for years of mistreatment.

That's why I don't believe that "stop and frisk" creates safer communities. The effects are much more complex than that. Yes, some guns may be taken off of the streets, but the harm those policies will inflict in the relationships between the police and members of that community will far outweigh any gains.

If Trump is truly concerned about making Chicago safer, I have a suggestion. Close the so-called gun loopholes. Every gun on the streets of Chicago was originally bought legally. The gangs are not manufacturing guns or marching into gun stores and going through the background check. But someone is. And that someone is flooding communities of color with guns.

I agree with Trump and others when they argue that our civil rights should not conflict with our right to life and safety. But the right I would examine is the right to buy and sell weapons that can end dozens of lives in a matter of seconds.

About First Watch

First Watch is a media project started at San Quentin State Prison. All content is shot, directed, edited, and scored by the journalists inside prison.

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