If you want to end the controversial Stop and Frisk policy in New York City, you have six weeks to do it.
These days it’s not very interesting to be a political reporter. With Congress wrapping up an historic do-nothing session and now going off to their traditional August recess, there’s not that much to cover on the Hill. Meanwhile the Obama scandals that dominated the spring have largely shuffled off into the dark. Thus recently the lion’s share of political coverage in the media has been about the mayoral race in New York City. But it’s a funny kind of coverage, rather than getting a look at the four main contenders to be mayor of America’s largest city, we get coverage of “all Weiner all the time” looking at how and why the once disgraced former Congressman has become a laughingstock.
With most polls showing Anthony Weiner dropping into fourth place and only six weeks to go before the September primary, now’s a good time to talk about the way that New Yorkers who disapprove of the New York Police Department’s controversial Stop and Frisk policy can actually see it ended. Stop and Frisk is the controversial NYPD policy of stopping and frisking New Yorkers on the street in order to find weapons and other contraband. To its supporters it’s a highly valuable and effective tactic that lowers crime and saves lives. To its detractors it’s a high ineffective way to confiscating guns that regularly violates the civil liberties of New Yorkers, especially young minority New Yorkers, every day. It has been around for quite some time and both former Mayor Ruddy Giuliani and current Mayor Michael Bloomberg have wholeheartedly supported it, and despite its controversy for a while now the policy itself has endured. The election of a new mayor, who will likely be a Democrat, could change all that.
I say likely because New Yorkers who want to end Stop and Frisk have to do more than elect a mayor that gives lip service to ending it on their website or on the campaign trail. They need to elected a mayor who is willing do things like butt heads with the NYPD’s leadership to ensure they commit to ending the practice, as well as elect a mayor that is willing to invest the time and energy necessary to ensure that reforms are actually implemented as well as the time and energy to ensure the reforms are working later on down the road. A lot of people seem to think that election to high office gives a politician the same power over the bureaucracies they supervise as a general on a battlefield, but that’s just not true. A mayor who wants to see a huge organization like the NYPD, with over 34,000 sworn personal and a $3.9 billion dollar budget, change by ending an entrenched practice like Stop and Frisk has to make that change a major focal point of their time and energy. Simply ordering someone to end it could quite possibly fail to yield any real changes.
There are three main non-Weiner contenders on the Democratic side to be the next Mayor of New York. While they have all expressed opposition to Stop and Frisk to some degree, they have expressed it at different levels of intensity. Former city comptroller Bill Thompson has compared Stop and Frisk to the actions of George Zimmerman, but I was unable to find any specifics about how he plans to end the practice on his website. City council speaker Christine Quinn has also called the policy “out of control,” but the only mention I see of it on her website is on the fifth bullet point of her public safety issues page where it says “[Quinn has] Helped secure improvements to training, monitoring, and protocols around stop-and-frisk, as well as an early warning system to identify officers who receive public complaints.” While Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has a whole paragraph about Stop and Frisk on his website and has made public statements denouncing the practice as well.
To be clear all of the three front runners for the Democratic nomination have voiced a desire to change the current Stop and Frisk policy in some way. But I’d argue that they’ve done so at different levels of intensity, and that level of intensity can matter when trying to change public policy. If you are interested in ending Stop and Frisk, now is the time to do your own research and decide who you think would be the best to end the practice. Once you do, it’s time to get to work. You can give money, volunteer to call voters or just tell your friends and neighbors about why it’s so important they vote for your candidate this fall. This type of person to person activism can really make a difference in a crowded race, even in a place as big as New York City. And electing a mayor willing to work hard to change or end the current Stop and Frisk policy of the NYPD is one of the most important factors in determining if it will be changed or ended. There’s one catch however, working for a candidate won’t guarantee that they’ll win, and them winning doesn’t guarantee that the policy will end. But don’t forget that it really is possible for a small group of dedicated people to change the world, and that it’s a lot easier when you are trying to “just” change a city.
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