The Dream is Still a Nightmare, Mr. President, and You are NOT Helping

by lizard

I don’t think Martin Luther King’s dream included a black president endorsing the racist policy of stop and frisk.

In July, after George Zimmerman was acquitted, Obama interrupted a press conference to make a statement, and this is part of what he said:

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

If Obama was a young black man in New York, there is a very good chance he would be stopped and frisked by police, because in New York it’s policy to automatically view young men of color as suspicious and in need of getting their bodies touched by law enforcement. And if a cop was frisking a young Obama, there is also a good chance they would find some marijuana, since we know the president got high as a young man.

Around the same time the president attempted to publicly identify with Trayvon, he also publicly praised Ray Kelly, the NYC police commissioner. This Daily Kos post called the endorsement Stunningly Tone Deaf and Troubling.

The president said: “Kelly has obviously done an extraordinary job in New York,”

So I guess that means the president thinks stop and frisk is good policy, as well as spying on Muslims, which the NYC police is currently being sued for doing, extensively.

What did that surveillance entail, you ask? The Nation has the answer:

In yet another program developed under the guise of prevention, the department transformed itself into a formidable intelligence agency. The NYPD Intelligence Division indiscriminately spied on Muslim communities and Muslim student associations in New York City, Long Island and throughout the Northeast. In so doing, the NYPD put to use its own 2007 report on radicalization, which correlates increasing religiosity and politicization in Muslims with the potential for terrorism. So the NYPD went whitewater rafting with City College students, worried about “militant paintball trips” at Brooklyn College, and sent undercover operatives to take notes at mosques and ask questions at “ethnic hot spots” like restaurants and bookstores. Despite Kelly’s fierce defense of the program’s necessity, the department admitted that not a single prosecution has resulted out of this wall-to-wall surveillance. Like the stop-and-frisk program, these programs instill fear. Muslim communities have reported decreased mosque attendance, reluctance to engage in “[p]olitical organizing, civil engagement and activism,” and “self-censorship on many religious and political topics.” Kelly’s version of security means no space is sacred, or free of watch, for New York’s Muslims. The message sent to Muslims: you are all suspects, and there is no place you should feel safe.

Bang up job there, Ray. I hope the NYC STASSI enjoyed those terrorist rafting trips.

So how is the dream doing 50 years later? Here are a few tweets from Dave Zirin (The Nation) live-tweeting the commemorative march today:

Just saw hundreds of placards that said “Stop the New Jim Crow” confiscated by Park Police at March on Washington anniv.

Still can’t believe that happened. Printed placards said “End Mass Incarceration. Stop the New Jim Crow” Park Police snatched them.

Two people yelled at Park Police for taking placards. Threatened with arrests. They backed down, feeling cowed at event of empowerment.

Let’s not kid ourselves, for too many, the dream is still a nightmare.


  1. I’ve been thinking about Stop and Frisk and crime control a lot lately, and I’m interested in your opinion. It is undoubtedly unpopular, disproportionately hits men of color, and its usefulness is unproven.

    However, Obama is right – those in charge of reducing crime and particularly murder in New York have been startling effective. In 1990 there were over two thousand murders in New York; now we’re looking at under 500, a per capita rate equivalent to Helena. And while Stop and Frisk disproportionately hits men of color, so does murder. So it’s quite reasonable to conclude that something like a thousand black people a year a being saved from violent deaths at young ages as a result of something New York is doing, and a large number of people from other races as well.

    Now, like I said, I have no idea, and I have seen little evidence, that Stop and Frisk is responsible for this. But something that is happening in New York is saving black lives and reducing suffering in black communities at a substantial rate. As a black man, I imagine Obama can respect that.

    • lizard19

      there is a sociology theory called Broken Windows that is credited with reducing crime rates in NYC, and has since been taken up by law enforcement across the nation, including here in Missoula. the idea is to aggressively police low-level crime because stuff like graffiti and panhandling can, according to this theory, lead to an environment of escalating crimes.

      the success of the broken windows approach was called into question at the beginning of this year in a really great Mother Jones article linking the removal of leaded gasoline with decreasing crime rates. I wrote about it in this post.

      it’s a very compelling, data-rich argument worth considering.

      • mike

        Mother Jones, really, and you want people to take you seriously, whatever blows your hair back liz.

        NYC got agressive with folks that tended to hang out in areas where violent crime occurs (disproporionately) crimes against people of the minority persuasion. Given the outcomes for the local folks you should probably stick a sock in it.

        Outcomes matter, your theory as a blogger from montana is more than just a little hilarious vis a vis policing in the big apple. Theorize on brochacho, it’s still a free country.

        • lizard19

          did you read the article Mike?

    • jack ruby

      It may be that economic reasons & gentrification have as much to do with the decrease in crime in the NYC area as stop and frisk or any other law enforcement policies. Poor people are fewer and farther between in NYC than they were in 1990. The poor black people in nyc just aren’t around as much as they used to be.

      Probably the gestapo tactics are helping though. For example take Plaxico Burress gets prison time for shooting himself in the leg with his own gun (as compared to the complete lack of punishment for such crimes in other jurisdiction) you’d have to assume anectdotaly that there is some deterrent value in the punishment…but clearly not enough deterrent for ol Plax himself.

  2. lizard19

    here is David Zirin’s article about today’s march.

  1. 1 Hillary Clinton: Problem for the Left, Gift for the Right | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] thinking about. I have this annoying preference, though, for substance over symbolism, which has led me to speculate how impactful our current president is for young black men when he’s enabling stop and frisk […]




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