Stop and Frisk
Listening to Bill O’Reilly or Dennis Prager denouncing Brown University students for shouting down New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, making it impossible for NYC’s Top Cop to speak, reminds me how almost everything that passes for political discourse these days would have confounded the Founders. (And take that, Cole Porter!)
First, are college students who shout down a government official so he can’t speak thugs, as David Horowitz’s Freedom Center has made a talking point for everyone called a right-wing pundit by left-wing pundits? Americans protesting their government both before and after the American Revolution would have considered shouting down a speaker mild thuggery at worst, considering that tarring and feathering of government tax collectors was not uncommon.
The Bostonians Paying the Excise-Man, 1774
But getting beyond the question of whether a government official speaking to justify a police policy should be suffered a hearing at an Ivy League university on general grounds of preserving open political discourse, let’s discuss the policy in controversy.
Stop and Frisk is the practice whereby a police officer upon seeing an individual on the street whom that officer considers generally suspicious — that is, not matching the description of a suspect for a specific crime — is allowed to place his hands on a person in a search for weapons or contraband.
If a private person places his hands on another person without that first person’s consent, it’s the crime of assault — and possibly sexual assault.
These police assaults are not usually of Wall Street Bankers. They’re in minority neighborhoods plagued by violent crime. The argument in favor of this policy is an end-justifies-the-means utilitarian one that it deprives gangs and street criminals of illegal arms that are used in violent crime, and a statistical claim that this police policy can be correlated with a reduction in violent street crimes since implemented.
But buried among political debates about racial profiling is the context that these police searches depend on New York gun-control laws that have violated the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitutions’ Bill of Rights for over a century, and the Fourth Amendment which requires a warrant before searching a private citizen.
Let’s bring in to this discussion the actual text of these two Amendments:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
I can read the English language and the intent of these two paragraphs is crystal clear to anyone not trained to obfuscate meaning as a lawyer or political operative.
I’ve been listening for days to right-wing pundits calling President Obama a liar because of the accusation he knowingly misrepresented to the American People that the Affordable Care Act would cause them to lose existing health insurance policies and continued treatment by their doctors.
May not I likewise, then, call the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States liars when they rule that New York gun control laws don’t violate the Second Amendment and Stop and Frisk doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment?
I can read these two amendments and reach a clear meaning. Can not Bill O’Reilly and Dennis Prager? And if they instead choose to ignore the clearly written protections of what is intended to be the highest law of the land in favor of inferior law that violates the people’s rights, do they not themselves deserve the appellation of statist liars?
But let’s put aside the question of law for the moment and merely ask if police policy that is intrusive of individual dignity should be allowed in a free society merely because it is speculated that its use correlates with an imagined social benefit — reduction in violent street crime.
If a policy that is not intrusive of individual dignity can be reasonably argued to produce the same result, should not the policy less intrusive be preferred?
The stop and frisk policy is more likely to deter a private citizen from carrying a weapon intended to protect against a criminal attack than it is to deter a gang member who upon seeing a police officer who might stop and frisk him passes his weapon to another gang member who can leave the street and not be searched.
The prior cause of any advantage an armed criminal has is the legal prohibition against private citizens — especially minorities without access to expensive private security – being allowed the means to protect themselves.
Why can’t a so-called conservative claiming to believe in limited government understand that their support for the police is the exact same destruction of individual self-reliance that they denounce when talking about food stamps and other government social programs?
The Framers of American government attempted to set up protections so the people would be free and independent. Today’s so-called liberals and conservatives are both statists who favor disempowering the individual and making them dependent on government for their well-being.
The Framers failed and today’s defender of freedom are blind both to that failure and their own failure to know it.
J. Neil Schulman’s latest book, The Heartmost Desire, which contains his manifesto on how individual liberty is necessary for happiness, is now out. Buy it on Amazon.com. Join discussion of The Heartmost Desire on its official Facebook page.