Monthly Archives: December 2018

The Problem of Stop and Frisk in the Age of Trump

Before I begin this article, I wanted to give a shot-out to the great historian, David Brion Davis, whose Problem of Slavery non-fiction trilogy gave me the idea for the title of this post. The stop and frisk debate cropped up again last week when the Washington, D.C. Police Department reached a settlement with M.B. Cottingham and the ACLU. Cottingham had been stopped, frisked, and allegedly sexually assaulted by an officer of the DCPD, who failed to find any evidence of wrongdoing. Some information about the case may be found here, and if you don’t find it deeply disturbing, I can only say that you trust the government far more than I ever will. This case also serves as a sobering reminder that, far from being confined to New York City, stop and frisk has been and is a national issue. Trump unsurprisingly favors it. Many liberals, such as Representatives Hakeem Jeffries and Jerrold Nadler, oppose it, and many others, such as Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio at least condemn the arguably racist application, if not the practice itself.

One of the things that makes stop and frisk such a fraught issue is that different groups of proponents take stances on it that are completely contradictory to each other. On the one hand are those such as former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly. Kelly has been a consistent advocate for stop and frisk. He has also repeatedly denounced racial profiling. In 2012, he issued a department-wide memo ordering his officers not to engage in racial profiling while stopping and frisking people. Whether we view all of this as completely honest or as smoke and mirrors to disguise racial bigotry, that is his public position. Bill O’Reilly, on the other hand, once referred to stop and frisk as “racial profiling” while defending it. In effect, one camp of stop and frisk supporters denies that the policy is racial profiling. The other says that stop and frisk is racial profiling and a jolly good thing too. So, is stop and frisk racial profiling? As a matter of official policy, stop and frisk is typically non-racial. Most departments do not explicitly allow officers to take race into account when deciding who to detain or search. Technically, white people can be stopped and frisked, and they sometimes are, albeit generally at much lower rates than black or Hispanic people. From an intellectual standpoint, there is no contradiction in being pro-stop and frisk and anti-racial profiling. (One issue that further muddies the waters but does not need to be discussed in this article is the fact that a significant subsection of Americans favors racial profiling for Arab Americans but not African Americans or Hispanic Americans.) I can see little value in trying to prove that every person who favors stop and frisk secretly supports racial profiling. This is simply an unprovable claim that leads to people talking past each other. Nevertheless, to claim that nonwhite Americans have no special interest in stop and frisk is absurd. As the New York Civil Liberties Union demonstrates, year after year, approximately 80 to 90% of people stopped by the NYPD are black or Hispanic. And every year, heavy majorities, sometimes up to 90%, have to be released due to lack of evidence. Does this mean most cops in New York and other cities who stop and frisk people are racially profiling? Not necessarily. Due to the history of oppression and inequality in this country, predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods tend to have higher levels of crime, which can lead to a greater police presence and more 911 calls. Nevertheless, the fact remains that large numbers of disproportionately nonwhite people are being subjected to humiliating stops and searches despite being innocent. Of course, some cops, both among leadership and the rank and file, do hold bigoted attitudes and do believe in racial profiling. While it is wrong to claim that all cops racially profile, it is also wrong to claim that only a tiny minority of cops racially profile. For those cops who do believe in treating people differently based on skin color, stop and frisk provides a golden opportunity for them to abuse their position. Since stop and frisk requires no warrant, and since incriminating evidence is usually not found anyway, those cops who are bigots will be very tempted to violate the privacy of innocent nonwhite people and come up with spurious justifications after the fact.

Moreover, even if it were proven that nobody was ever stopped and frisked based partly on race, and there were no racial disparities, the practice would still be wrong. Why? Because it short-circuits due process and privacy rights. In many jurisdictions, police do not need to witness a crime or obtain a warrant before stopping and frisking someone. There is often no requirement for probable cause or that the person stopped and frisked matches the description of a specific suspect. Thus, while the police are rightfully forbidden from searching your home without probable cause and a warrant, they are free to search you. Some people may argue that this is conducive to public safety. However, to quote the inestimable Russ Feingold, “If we lived in a country that allowed the police to search your home at any time for any reason; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your email communications … then the government would no doubt discover and arrest more terrorists. But that probably would not be a country in which we would want to live.” The same principle applies when it comes to apprehending regular criminals. There are restrictions we place on the power of government in order to protect privacy rights and due process despite knowing that, as a sad consequence, some criminals will slip through the government’s fingers. This is why we have things such as search warrants at all. I believe that requiring officers to either obtain a warrant or have sufficient probable cause to make an arrest prior to stopping and frisking anyone is a reasonable restriction on government power to protect privacy and due process. I also believe that in cases where someone is stopped but not searched, reasonable suspicion should be first be required, along with a detailed incident report including the reason for the stop and, in order to spot possible discrimination, the suspect’s race. Body cameras must be required for all police in all departments in order to keep law enforcement officials from “cooking the books” to justify specious stops. Others may disagree. Yet I suspect that if large numbers of affluent, innocent white suburbanites were being stopped and frisked every year, there would be significantly more public outcry.

On a final note, I must admit to a change in one of my views. About six and a half years ago, I criticized a SCOTUS decision allowing anyone to be strip-searched upon arrest but also stated my opposition to civilian review boards for police. I now believe that I got the former issue right and the latter issue wrong. At the time, I was concerned about Monday morning quarterbacking of cops by people without a background in or knowledge of law enforcement. I realize now, however, that police departments require a degree of civilian oversight. While one’s perspective may be clouded due to a lack of policing experience, one’s perspective may also be clouded by working in a police department. And there are limits to how much we can rely on Internal Affairs to handle police misconduct, since IA is still a division of law enforcement. I now support civilian review boards to help assess complaints against police. However, I still believe that my concerns about Monday morning quarterbacking were not entirely illegitimate. Hence, I propose that at least 10% but no more than 20% of each civilian review board’s membership should consist of ex-cops.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hopefully My Only Lena Dunham Post

In the last few years, one of the most banal internal conflicts on the Left has been whether or not Lena Dunham is a brilliant feminist artist or the liberal New York equivalent of Tomi Lahren. From about 2011 to Fall of 2017, I had been in no man’s land by virtue of neither liking nor disliking Dunham. For one thing, I have never quite decided if the youthful sexual exploration she described in her autobiography was inappropriate-but-innocently intended or early child molestation/grooming. For another, I have always been agnostic on the raging debate of whether or not she is racially bigoted, though I lean toward considering her tone deaf, arrogant, and self-centered as opposed to bigoted. When she made her infamous comments about Odell Beckham, Jr. in 2016, I cringed, both because I found her comments bizarre and egocentric and because I knew social media was going to be ablaze with arguments about it for the next few days.

What made me develop a more firm opinion on Dunham was her response to the sexual assault allegations made by actress Aurora Perrineau toward writer Murray Miller in November of last year. For those who were on a social media hiatus during that time, Perrineau accused Miller of sexually assaulting her five years earlier. Dunham’s initial response was to co-release a statement saying, “”While our first instinct is to listen to every woman’s story, our insider knowledge of Murray’s situation makes us confident that sadly this accusation is one of the 3% of assault cases that are misreported every year.” Then, the backlash started. A part of the backlash was renewed accusations of racial bigotry, as Perrineau is part-black, and Murray is white. I felt disinclined to either defend or condemn Dunham’s response. In the interest of honesty, I have not reviewed the evidence for or against Murray being guilty, and I have no way of knowing whether or not Dunham would have responded differently if the accuser had been white or the accused nonwhite. Then, Dunham did an almost immediate 180. She apologized for defending Miller, said that her friendship with him should not enter into it, and proclaimed that, “Under patriarchy, ‘I believe you’ is essential. Until we are all believed, none of us will be believed.” I would call this statement gobbledygook, but that might be too generous. Dunham did not even attempt to provide any indication of new evidence that had made her change her position. Nor did she try to explain how the “insider knowledge” that had made her confident of Miller’s innocence a day earlier was suddenly irrelevant. Furthermore, her implication that all accusations should be automatically assumed true is deeply problematic. Assuming sexual abuse accusations to be false unless proven true–as has been prevalent under patriarchy–is extremely wrong and dangerous. But so is assuming that accusations are true unless proven false. False accusations, especially against rich, white, heterosexual, cisgender men are rare, and large number of cases go unreported. But 3% is not 0%. And the fact that ~97% of accusations are true does not allow us to automatically conclude that any specific accusation has a 97% chance of being true. That assumption fails to take into account the many variables of each individual case. And having insider knowledge of a case is a very important variable that Dunham made the decision to suddenly dismiss. I was forced to conclude in light of Dunham’s wildly inconsistent response that one of two things was true: either she had covered for a sexual predator, or she had thrown an innocent friend under the bus due to public outcry. And either of those actions are, to put it mildly, pretty cold blooded. Although calling them cold blooded might be an insult to the many majestic cold-blooded members of the Animal Kingdom, past and present.

Now, perhaps in an effort to stave off controversy for a new project she is embarking on, Dunham has written an essay apologizing to Perrineau. I took a look at it, wondering if it might shed some light on her seemingly mercenary behavior last year. In the great Liam Neeson film, Unknown, an aging German detective tells Neeson’s character, “In the Stasi, we had a basic principle: Ask enough questions and a man who is lying will eventually change his story….but a man who tells the truth cannot change his, however unlikely his story sounds.” I hate to say anything non-negative about a security police organization from an authoritarian regime, but if we assume that this principle is sound, then Dunham seems to be lying through her teeth. In her new essay, she writes, “I didn’t have the ‘insider information’ I claimed but rather blind faith in a story that kept slipping and changing and revealed itself to mean nothing at all.” If I knew nothing about the background of this case, I might find that explanation plausible. Unfortunately, it blatantly contradicts her original apology. The original apology said nothing about Miller contradicting himself or about reevaluating the evidence against him. Instead, her apology hinged on the premise that accusations should never be labeled false or even questioned. So, for those keeping count, Dunham has now changed her position not once but twice:
Position 1: Based on insider information, I can conclude that Miller is innocent.

Position 2: My relationship with Miller shouldn’t enter into this matter, and besides, all accusations should be assumed true, regardless of evidence, insider knowledge, or anything else.

Position 3: Miller kept contradicting himself, allowing me to deduce his story was bogus. I never had any of the insider information I claimed I had or thought I had.

If Miller’s alibi kept changing and fell apart, then that would have been a far better explanation to include in her original about-face than what the public got last November.   As it is, Dunham continues to come across as, to use my original description, arrogant, self-centered, and tone deaf. One can, like me, be unfamiliar with the evidence for or against Miller and feel unconvinced that Dunham is a bigot while still believing that this sordid story reflects very, very badly on her.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Reflections on the South, Bush 41, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Pope Francis, and MAGA Hats

If Racism is More Extreme in the South, and We Pretend It Isn’t, Does the South Still Have More Bigots?

In an event that I wish I could say surprised me, Neo-Confederate and crypto-white supremacist, Cindy Hyde-Smith, beat black centre-left Democrat, Mike Espy, for the Senate. This is the third race in the 2018 Midterms wherein a pro-LGBT rights black candidate lost to a conservative Republican running in a Southern state. I think it’s time to face the fact that while racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are rampant throughout America, the South isn’t just like the rest of the country. When it comes to institutional racism, the whole country is about equally bad. When it comes to individual racist attitudes, I think that historical evidence, polling data, election results like today’s, politicians’ records in different states, etc. show that the South is worse. Ditto for homophobia, transphobia, sexism, etc. Roy Moore wanted to repeal the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th amendments, thought the country was last great when slavery existed, and favored sodomy laws. He was almost certain to win an Alabama Senate seat until getting exposed as a pedophile. As it was, he got about 2/3rds of the white vote. Singling the South out as the only part of the country where bigotry exists is a terrible idea. Fortunately, however, almost nobody actually does this. I have virtually never heard anyone from up North say that racism only exists in the South; it’s a straw-man. However, ignoring the fact that these problems are and have been especially extreme in the South doesn’t do anyone any favors.

Did Ben Shapiro Know About Bush 41’s Israel Policy When He Paid Tribute To Him?

I strongly disagree with many of George H.W. Bush’s policies, but I was thinking about one of his foreign policy stances that would be good for modern politicians to emulate. In response to the continued problem of Israeli settlements committed against Palestinians, Bush threatened to pull the plug on Israel’s guaranteed loan problem. I think that this would be a reasonable method of dealing with human rights abuses in Israel, as well as in many other countries that receive foreign aid from the U.S., such as Russia, Egypt, Uganda, and Jordan. Because these settlements are unfair, and they are a key obstacle to peace in Israel and Palestine.

Do We Expect More of (Black) Scientists than (White) Presidents?

Neil deGrasse Tyson is being accused of sexual abuse by three women, and he is being investigated for it, as he should be. I am genuinely agnostic about whether or not he is guilty, but I hope that the investigation will bring the truth to light. What annoys me is that this is happening at the same time that many people are largely ignoring the count ’em, EIGHT women who have accused George Bush, Sr. of sexual abuse. I am always open to new evidence, but I find it very unlikely that all 8 women conspired to lie about a public figure who was largely retired at the time of the accusations. Nor, contrary to what some may think, did these reported incidents all take place once Bush was senile. The earliest incident allegedly took place in 1992. This is not a defense of Tyson. As I said, he may be guilty, and if he is guilty, he deserves what he gets. But the double standard here is awfully grating. Also, here is another troubling fact: 3 of the 5 most recent U.S. presidents, counting the current occupant, have been accused of sexual abuse. That’s 60%. If you add up all the accusations against the three of them, it totals dozens of women. I think it’s pretty clear Bush, Sr. was guilty, as is Trump. I am less certain one way or the other about the accusations against Clinton, but I think that they cannot be easily dismissed as false. This speaks to a poisonous aspect of our culture.

Pope Francis Is Still More Conservative on Gay Rights Than the Koch Brothers

In an apparent quest to see how homophobic and transphobic he can be while still getting portrayed as an LGBT ally, Francis reiterated his opposition to gay priests. Apparently, when priests aren’t having sex, it’s very important that the sex they would be having would be with a woman and not another man. This is also noteworthy, because the Pope seems to be more bothered by gay priests than pedophile priests. Some conservatives will try to use the rampant pedophilia in the Catholic Church to argue against gay priests. Leaving aside the fact that it has not even been demonstrated that most of the pedophiles priests are even gay, this argument carries the ingredient of its own destruction. Whatever percentage of predatory priests are or are not gay, we know that 100% of them are male. Ergo, any argument that uses the sex abuse scandals to oppose gay priests is also an argument against male priests.

School Dress Codes Were Never Great

I consider National Review to be unfit for toilet paper–though Katherine Timpf is one of the most reasonable writers there–so I take this story with a grain of salt. But if it’s true, it seems that many conservatives’ longstanding insistence that school dress codes are great and that students don’t have free expression rights in public schools have come back to bite them:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized