New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s concentrated regime of stop-and-frisk received international attention this week as a landmark class-action federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the draconian police tactic got underway.
One of the more important pieces of evidence revealed in court this week came from NYPD officer and heroic whistleblower Pedro Serrano, who secretly recorded NYPD Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormach ordering him to make “male blacks 14 to 21” the target of stop-and-frisk.
Rania Khalek transcribed the recording on her website Dispatches from the Underclass:
Stop “the right people, the right time, the right location,” Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack is heard saying on the recording.
“So what am I supposed to do: Stop every black and Hispanic?” Serrano is heard saying on the tape, which was recorded last month at the 40th Precinct in the Bronx.
“I have no problem telling you this,” the inspector said on the tape. “Male blacks. And I told you at roll call, and I have no problem [to] tell you this, male blacks 14 to 21.”
The recording reveals in a determinant form what had already been made manifest by years of stop-and-frisk statistics, affidavits, and the voices of those who experience it: the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactic almost wholly targets youth of color as a matter of fact.
Targeting of minority youth was always at the core of the tactic.
Proponents of stop-and-frisk, typically individuals of a more authoritarian persuasion, contend that the tactic is necessary for “crime prevention.” Yet statistics show that the effect of stop-and-frisk as a crime prevention measure is negligible at best.
But as I contend here, stop-and-frisk has never truly been about crime reduction. Stop-and-frisk is a psychological tactic applied to people of color, quite often in gentrifying areas on the cusp of materially disadvantaged communities.
Police stops, street interrogations, and frisks are in essence humiliating public spectacles designed to mark the black or brown body as criminal.
Stop-and-frisk recreates the signification of criminality attached to black and brown skin and creates real forms of social stigmatization, diminishes life opportunities, limits basic rights, and reproduces mass joblessness.
Race-based policing thus contributes to cycles of violence, both state violence and violence between people, and reinforces the very practice of race-based policing while allowing the social conditions that lead to crime in the first place to go ignored.
In this way, the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactic is a case of what Loïc Wacquant calls the “racialized penalization of poverty” in the United States, with state-sanctioned violence used to subdue marginalized populations of highly-expendable surplus humanity, a population whose labor is no longer needed, all the while blaming the individual for social conditions far out of their control.
Rather than breaking the cycle of violence and deterring crime, tactics like stop-and-frisk recreate the conditions that produce violence and criminality, thus further contributing to their existence.