Voices in Focus: Alternatives to Stop-and-Frisk

The ongoing controversy over the New York City Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” practices came to the fore again last week after Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly challenged critics of the practice to come up with their own approaches to reducing crime. While The New York Times reported on a group of black and Latino lawmakers who are urging legislation on the issue, several community and ethnic outlets sought responses to Kelly’s questions.

Our Time Press laid out Kelly’s questions:

Kelly issued the challenge on March 13 when he was grilled before the New York City Council Committee on Public Safety regarding the controversial “stop-and-frisk” program, which has resulted in the NYPD stopping over 684,000 people last year, 87% of which were black or Latino.

“Ninety-six percent of the shooting victims in this city are people of color. Ninety percent of the murder victims are people of color,” said Kelly. “What I haven’t heard is any solution to the violence problem in these communities. People are upset about being stopped, yet what is the answer? What have you said about how we stop this violence? What do leaders of the communities of color say? What is their tactic and strategy to get guns off the street? Don’t tell me ‘A gun buy-back program.’”

Several politicians and activists quickly offered their responses.

“Instead of cutting services for young people, such as early childhood education and after-school programs, the mayor should be committing more resources to prevent many of our young people from being led astray into criminal activity,” said [Bedford-Stuyvesant City Councilman Al] Vann.

“Additionally, the NYPD needs to return to using a stronger community policing model that utilizes the activism and involvement of community leaders. The restoration of the NYPD Block Watcher’s Training would certainly be a first step in reinvigorating this policing model that works collaboratively with communities rather than treating them as occupied territories,” he added.

Our Time Press also offered an editorial response, emphasizing education, economic development and prison reform. On economic development, the editorial elaborated.

Follow the example of the Hassidic daycare just up the street. Their waste pickup is by a Hassidic hauler, their food comes from Hassidic suppliers, the busses (sic) are Hassidic owned and driven, and the entire institution, no doubt mirroring others, becomes an economic engine that keep dollars circulating in the community empowering everyone.

So let it be with the educational, child and senior care institutions in the African-American community. Have all of those institutions use African-American suppliers and watch the scramble as small businesses, a community’s greatest job creators, grow and stabilizing families and create opportunities.

The Amsterdam News quoted Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, who dismissed Kelly’s questions as a distraction from the controversy over stop-and-frisk practices.

The Brooklyn councilman stated that Kelly has failed to demonstrate real leadership, which “would be standing up and admitting that’s there more than concern over stop, question and frisk, that there’s a serious problem.”

Real leadership, Williams proposed, would be meeting with young Black and Latino New Yorkers and listening to their concerns. “Real leadership would be de-emphasizing quotas, or ‘productivity goals,’ and re-emphasizing good police work,” he said. “Real leadership would be actually speaking with other city agencies like the Department for Youth and Community Development to discuss the relationship between violent crime and youth development; gun violence is an epidemic with multiple symptoms such as chronic poverty and underfunded youth services, and not addressing all of those symptoms in concert is senseless.”

The actor Gbenga Akinnagbe has been active in the movement against police stop-and-frisk practices. (Photo via The Brooklyn Rail)

One celebrity also weighed in on stop-and-frisk, The Brooklyn Rail reported. Gbenga Akinnagbe, the Brooklynite who played Chris Partlow in the HBO series “The Wire,” has been a vocal critic of stop-and-frisk, and was arrested while protesting the practice in Harlem in October. He sees hope in the convergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the stop-and-frisk movement, he told the Brooklyn Rail, in part because both movements “aren’t just concerned with their class and their race.”

Like so many Brooklyn residents of color, Akinnagbe believes he is subject to the NYPD’s policy of Stop and Frisk due to the color of his skin. He is calling for a broad-based convergence of movements to protest New York City’s random stop policy, which statistics show disproportionately involves men of color, particularly in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Though he did not specifically respond to Kelly’s questions, the police commissioner’s predecessor in the post, Bill Bratton, weighed in on the effectiveness of stop-and-frisk, DNAinfo reported.

Bratton, who oversaw the city’s dramatic crime reductions in the mid-1990s, said using stop-and-frisks to confiscate illegal guns and fight crime is like using chemotherapy and radiation to fight cancer.

While too high a dose can be fatal, the right amount can save a person’s — or a city’s — life, Bratton said.

“The challenge is to do it appropriately,” Bratton said. “Applied in the right way, in the right moderation, [chemotherapy and radiation] will cure most cancers. [Stop-and-frisk] is an intrusive power…but applied in the right way, it can have the effect of reducing crime.”

Bratton offered an optimistic spin on the war of words over stop-and-frisk practices.

“The debates that are currently occurring are healthy debates to have,” Bratton told DNAinfo before his speech, referring to the controversy over stop-and-frisks and allegations that the NYPD has been spying on Muslims.

“The Police Department has to always be transparent in what they are doing,” he continued. “A lot of what’s happening now is the media and the public wanting more information, more justification from the Police Department. That’s appropriate.”

And he offered some context on the controversy. At least, he told the news outlet, “We are having discussions and debates about the issue, rather than throwing hand grenades at each other.”

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