ROBINSON: Arbitrary, and uncalled for

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

For all who believe in colorblind justice — and want to see fewer black and Hispanic men caught up in the system — there are two items of good news: a judge’s ruling ordering changes in New York’s “stop and frisk” policy and Attorney General Eric Holder’s initiative to keep nonviolent drug offenders out of prison.

First, “stop and frisk.” Mayor Michael Bloomberg is having a hissy fit over U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin’s finding that the policy amounted to “indirect racial profiling.” On his weekly radio show, the mayor wouldn’t even say Scheindlin’s name, calling her “some woman” who knows “absolutely zero” about policing. In an op-ed article for The Washington Post, Bloomberg went so far as to accuse Scheindlin of being “ideologically driven.”

If and when Bloomberg calms down, I’d like to ask him the fundamental question posed — not in these words, of course — by Scheindlin’s ruling: Would it kill you to stop and frisk some white guys, too?

Blacks and Hispanics make up about half of New York City’s population but were targeted in 86 percent of the 532,911 “stops” last year under Bloomberg’s policy, which encourages police to detain and search individuals if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person “committed, is committing, or is about to commit” a crime. The reason most often cited for a stop is that the individual made “furtive” movements.

In nine out of 10 cases, the person is stopped — and sometimes frisked — but no evidence is found of any offense. Bloomberg argues that this kind of proactive policing actually prevents crime, and he credits “stop and frisk” for making New York the safest big city in the country.

I’m all for safe streets. I’m also aware that there is no consensus crediting “stop and frisk” with any impact on the crime rate, but I’m willing to accept the premise that an active police presence can deter criminals. My problem is that African-Americans and Hispanics are being singled out disproportionately for these arbitrary searches.

Bloomberg says this is because most violent crime occurs in black and Hispanic neighborhoods, with black and Hispanic victims. By all means, police should continue walking and cruising these beats. But the numbers indicate that African-Americans and Hispanics are being given too much “stop and frisk” scrutiny — and that whites are being given too little.

According to an analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union, blacks and Hispanics who are stopped are more likely than whites to be frisked. But just 2 percent of blacks and Hispanics who are frisked are discovered to be carrying weapons, while 4 percent of whites who are frisked have weapons. So if the aim is to find illegal guns, police should frisk more whites.

Why such fuss over a few minutes of inconvenience and indignity? Because blacks and Hispanics who come into contact with the criminal justice system for any reason are more likely to be arrested, charged and convicted than whites, and are likely to serve longer prison sentences.

Of more than 26,000 stops last year for alleged marijuana offenses, for example, 61 percent were of African-Americans and only 9 percent were of whites. But surveys show that whites are equally or more likely to be marijuana users. Police don’t find white potheads because they’re not looking for them.

We know that nationwide, according to federal figures, African-Americans are four times as likely as whites to be arrested, charged and imprisoned for minor drug offenses. Once young black and Hispanic men enter the criminal justice system, too often they become trapped in a loop of incarceration, release, unemployment and recidivism.

On the national level, Holder has taken direct aim at this vicious cycle with the announcement last week that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders will no longer face federal charges that carry long mandatory prison sentences.

Holder is giving new instructions to federal prosecutors and also supporting legislation that has received bipartisan support in the Senate, where some conservatives now see excessive prison terms as a waste of money.

“We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate, not merely to warehouse and to forget,” Holder said in a speech to the American Bar Association. President Obama is expected to make prison reform one of his priorities this fall.

Ending the presumption that black and Hispanic men are beyond redemption would be a powerful legacy for the first black president and the first black attorney general to leave behind.

Eugene Robinson is an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post. Email him at eugenerobinson@washpost.com.


notblind 1 year, 8 months ago

Eugene is not calling out minorities for the amount of crimes they commit. He just wants more whiteys harrassed . He is just another liberal elite hack fanning the flames of polarization. The worst thing that could happen to his dream is for all races to start pulling together to fight their common enemy, namely our own federal government. Class warfare is a basic tenet of Marxist ideology. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Ho Chi Minh; their first step was to turn the people against one another. Pretty sobering to see it happening so blatantly here in the USA. ...................


Jan 1 year, 7 months ago

I am looking forward to the new GDP policy so we can see who makes such blatantly racist comments. FYI, Whites commit more crimes it is just that our incarceration policies are biased against poor blacks. Liberals believe in equality, it is the wealthy that use the false claim that seeking such equality is some how class warfare, thus ignoring the real problem of inequality defended by the wealthy.


Haughton 1 year, 7 months ago

"FYI, Whites commit more crimes it is just that our incarceration policies are biased against poor blacks."

Can you share those statistics with us? NO, you cannot - because they are flat out false! Besides, you have previously endorsed a book, How To Lie with Statistics, and your above post proves that you pick and choose statistics to fit your agenda. See your comments in the link below to refresh your memory:


Calling people Racist for making fact based comments, just because they disagree with your agenda, is precisely why the GDP policy is changing. So Ms. Jan, you are part of the problem.


notblind 1 year, 7 months ago

My post actually calls for Americans of all races to pull together to fight back against the dual scourges of rampant criminality AND a federal government run amok. You have to want to hear the real message though. Whipping out the race card shows a basically dishonest nature that no amount of irrefutable facts can overcome.


Jan 1 year, 7 months ago

http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/table-43 And I still stand behind my statement. Read the book "How To Lie with Statistics" and it will help you to better understand the meaning behind statistics. For instance, the statistics table I cited is for arrests and Caucasians are less likely to be arrested under similar situations. The wealthy, who are disproportionately Caucasian, are frequently allowed some token restitution to avoid arrests. The racist is like an addict, most are in self denial and will not change until they recognize their own racist attitudes.


Haughton 1 year, 7 months ago

Ms. Jan ... Thank You for the link. Unfortunately, your repeated use of the word "Caucasian" makes your entire argument invalid. The FBI uses the word "White", which includes Caucasians and Hispanics. In this case you have lied using both words and statistics. Is your racist attitude and wealth envy directed at Caucasians or Hispanics? As usual your rants are clear as mud.


Haughton 1 year, 8 months ago

Mr. Robinson, as usual, fails to address the real Headlines of the week:



Interesting also that Mr. Robinson is all of a sudden concerned with adding Hispanics into his equation. I guess George Zimmerman is still considered White.


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