Pubdate: Wed, 21 Aug 2013
Source: Daily Home, The (Talladega,  AL)
Copyright: 2013 Washington Post Writers Group
Note:  also listed as contact
Author: Eugene Robinson
Note: Eugene Robinson is a syndicated columnist with the Washington 
Post Writers Group.


For all who believe in colorblind justice - and want to see fewer 
African American and Hispanic men caught up in the system - there are 
two recent 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. New York 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, he wouldn't even say Scheindlin's name, calling her "some 
woman" who knows "absolutely zero" about policing. In an op-ed for 
The 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 87 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-andfrisk 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.

More than 26,000 stops were made 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 than blacks 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 African American 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.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom