Originally published on The Huffington Post, August 20, 2013
Over the weekend, a disagreement of sorts took place between (1) New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and (2) Ben Jealous, Head of the NAACP, and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother. It continued Monday morning on MSNBC where Mr. Jealous accused the policy of Stop and Frisk of essentially allowing the racial profiling whole communities and further encouraging self-appointed vigilantes such as George Zimmerman.
Since I generally side with the NAACP, I was uncomfortable with the argument. In this particular case, I disagreed with Mr. Jealous and Ms. Fulton. I basically don’t see the killing of Trayvon Martin, the law Stand Your Ground, and the policy Stop and Frisk as equivalent. Since distinctions, and especially the arguments on which they are based, matter, it is important to challenge them when they are wrong.
From the very beginning, I have not only strongly condemned, but I continue to condemn Stand Your Ground and especially the State of Florida for allowing such a law to be enacted in the first place, and most of all, for allowing the killer of Trayvon Martin to go free. I made these points at a national convention I attended in Florida about a week ago. If I had been in charge, I would have cancelled the convention, or since that wasn’t possible, I would have had the leadership of the society whose convention I attended speak out loudly against the laws and policies of the State of Florida. I no longer want to set foot in states that permit citizens to carry concealed weapons and that have laws like Stand Your Ground.
But I feel differently about Stop and Frisk. If one believes Commissioner Kelly’s account that Stop and Frisk is not essentially about racial profiling, but a mechanism to allow police to stop people who, for example, are committing suspicious acts such as repeatedly trying to open the doors of parked cars, then I don’t see anything wrong with it as a policy for fighting crime in neighborhoods with high crime rates. If Stop and Frisk is used indiscriminately, as it has been in the past, to stop people for “being black,” then of course I condemn it in no uncertain terms.
Because Stand Your Ground is totally reprehensible, we cannot jump to the unwarranted conclusion that all measures designed to combat crime are equally bad.
If racial profiling is absolutely repugnant, which it is, is behavior profiling as well? I don’t think so.