NYPD: racial profiling, false collaring, permanent records

up against the wall, spread over the hood, or face down on the ground; then into the computer

From 2004 through 2009, in a policy that has gotten completely out of control, New York City police officers stopped people on the street and checked them out nearly three million times, frisking and otherwise humiliating many of them.

Upward of 90 percent of the people stopped are completely innocent of any wrongdoing. And yet the New York Police Department is compounding this intolerable indignity by compiling an enormous and permanent computerized database of these encounters between innocent New Yorkers and the police.

Not only are most of the people innocent, but a vast majority are either black or Hispanic. There is no defense for this policy. It’s a gruesome, racist practice that should offend all New Yorkers, and it should cease.

These are the first angry paragraphs of Bob Herbert's righteous and powerful Op-Ed piece in today's Times, "Watching Certain People".

And none of this is even news! Why do most New Yorkers continue to be indifferent to what's being perpetrated within what is generally considered to be one of the world's most diverse and most liberal societies?

Herbert's outrage is rightly directed at the racism so dramatically demonstrated by the statistics, but we would be ashamed of and alarmed by the police tactics themselves even if they were exercised within a completely homogeneous society.

While no one is contending that the practices of the New York City Police Department [NYPD] are equivalent to those of the Geheime Staatspolizei [Gestapo], the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit [Stasi], or the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti [KGB], how much emulation of the tactics used by systems we call totalitarian will we tolerate in our guardians? Do we care at all as long as we think "decent people" aren't being harassed, intimidated, and permanently documented?

New York City has taken its cue from the nation's irrational and hysterical response to the events of 9/11, the so-called "Patriot Act", and produced a number of its own unconstitutional police toys in the name of "security", some of them (as in the case of the federal operations) with absolutely no relationship to terrorism, or indeed patriots, and none of them able to promise safety to their white middle-class or wealthy authors in any event.

At what point will we know it's gone too far? If we're indifferent to what's happening or simply not paying attention, how will we know when the land of the free and the home of the brave has actually become a military/police state, its population cowed into submission by fear of the other, to be hunted down in its midst or somewhere on the other side of the planet?

[image, illustrating NYPD stop-frisk statistics for the first half of 2009, from revcom.us]