Point of View Columns

What a Difference a Day Makes

Monday, August 12, 2013 will be noted as an important day by those who pay attention to what goes on in this country. Because after all of the A-Rod, Anthony Weiner and Lindsay Lohan stories, there are actually some very important issues of justice that are being addressed. And how they are addressed is going to make a huge difference on how all Americans will live in the days and years to come. And we can start with today’s “Stop and Frisk” court decision.

Today, Federal District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled in a 195 page decision that for close to a decade the New York City Police Department has systematically, intentionally and institutionally violated the constitutional rights of blacks and Latinos through its eternally controversial “Stop and Frisk” policy. Her decision does not mince words and leaves New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly without a legal leg to stand on.

For example, the City of New York argued that the high proportion of blacks and Latinos who were stopped reflected the high proportion of crimes committed by blacks and Latinos. Judge Scheindlin correctly and logically pointed out that stopping virtually all black and Latino young could not be justified because some black and Latino men commit crimes.

What is astounding is that the case itself brought to light the fact that over the past decade millions (yes, millions) of stops of the “Stop and Frisk” variety were inflicted on black and Latino young men (88% of the stops). Yet less than 10% of these stops resulted in reasonable cause for arrest and less than 5% who were stopped were ever convicted of a crime – and in the overwhelming majority of those convictions the crime was possession of small amounts of drugs (usually marijuana).

That the police department of a major American city would inflict such draconian measures upon a large and much maligned segment of the population is stunning. “Stop and Frisk” as employed in New York has been nothing less than despotic in its implementation and incredibly corrosive when it comes to the relationship between the police department and the minority communities of the polyglot capital of the world known as New York City.

The only surprise is that some people, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, are surprised that an impartial judge would find the City of New York to be at fault. And we can only hope that in the future the common effort to prevent and deter criminal activities does not give rise to other “simple” solutions that so casually violate the rights of millions of Americans.

And, on this same day, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice will instruct U.S. attorneys across the country to limit charges in drug cases so as to limit the terms of incarceration that are imposed. Attorney General Holder pointed to the fact that although this country has 5% of the world’s population, it has 25% of all of the prisoners in the world. Clearly this astronomical incarceration rate is expensive ($80 billion per year) and just as clearly indicates a dysfunctional criminal justice system.

As the so-called War on Drugs approaches the half century mark it is clear that this war is beyond “winning”, whatever “winning” was ever supposed to mean. The War on Drugs did give rise to a private sector corrections industry and widespread corruption within the law enforcement sector. And it has also resulted in the horrific decimation of communities of color across the country as men (and increasingly women) in these communities are arrested and convicted and sentenced and incarcerated in much higher proportions than their white counterparts.

Interestingly enough, Attorney General Holder and the Obama Administration did not take this matter before the politically hogtied United States Congress. Even though the drug sentencing proposals have widespread bipartisan support at the state level, it is now a sad fact of life that any proposal with “Obama” connected to it is virtually DOA when it arrives at the door of the House of Representatives.

Nevertheless, Attorney General Holder and President Obama picked a good time to remind the Teapublicans in the House what the word “executive” in the Executive Branch actually means.

All in all a good day for justice.

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Point of View Columns

Stop Frisking!

The New York City Police Department has engaged in “Stop and Frisk” street crime prevention program that has been in effect for a decade. An average of 600,000 people have been stopped and frisked every year. Over 80% of the people stopped have been young black and Latino men. Less than 10% of these stops have resulted in arrests and less than 5% have resulted in convictions. Incredibly, there are many people who think that this is a good program.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, supported by the Fourteenth Amendment, prevents unreasonable search and seizure by any governmental entity, including the police. When almost a half million young men of color are stopped and frisked on suspicion of some vague notion of criminality, there would seem to be serious question about the constitutionality of such a program. The questions are more acute when it is statistically clear that the wholesale criminalization of a generation of young black and Latino men is not preventing or suppressing crime.

Right now, in a federal court in New York City, the constitutionality of the Stop and Frisk program is being challenged. Witnesses have come forward on behalf of the class action recounting the repeated humiliation, degradation and sheer terror that accompanies the Stop and Frisk program. Racial slurs, epithets, random violence and threats of violence are the unspoken accessories to this random ransacking of the Constitution.

Despite the fact that no other major city in a democratic country on the planet utilizes this awful police procedure, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly vigorously defend it. That is not surprising considering that they are the policy birth parents of this monstrosity.

What is surprising is that most of the mayoral candidates either support the Stop and Frisk program or suggest that it should exist with modifications. Considering the fact that the black and Latino population of New York City is approaching 50% it is an amazing position for a political candidate to take.

Essentially they are saying to black and Latino voters is, “stripping you and your children of their constitutional rights and degrading you and your children in the name of crime prevention is a good thing and you should vote for me”. Other supporters of stop and frisk “with modifications” also point to the need to prevent crime as the unassailable reason for continuing to violate the personhood of so many people.

Presumably, if every black and Latino young man in New York City was arrested the crime rate would plummet. If they were all imprisoned, according this way of thinking, New York would be the first crime free city in the history of world civilization.

Predictably, most of the mayoral candidates who support stop and frisk are white. Indeed, most of the most vocal supporters of stop and frisk are white. Most of these men and women (and their sons) have never been on the business end of a police stop and even if they were the odds are that they were treated with a level of dignity and respect rarely seen by black and Latino young men.

Even more interesting are the black and Latino public figures that support stop and frisk “with modifications”. The fact is that even if a person is stopped and frisked and is not cursed at or threatened with a beat down, even if that person is not thrown against a wall or subjected to racial epithets, they are still being stopped and frisked without probable cause. That black and Latino public figures would be complicit in degradation and humiliation “with modifications” is disturbing and distressing.

Black or white or Latino, it would seem that the supporters of stop and frisk either believe that only guilty people get stopped – but the statistics overwhelmingly show that this is not true. The alternative is that these apologists for illegality somehow believe that degradation and humiliation “with modifications” is a price that some people have to pay so that crime can be reduced.

The question has to be asked of these advocates of constitutional dilution – what price would be too high?

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Point of View Columns

Knowing the Difference between Right and Wrong

Michael Bloomberg has been mayor of New York City for almost twelve years. During that time he has placed an unprecedented governmental focus on the health of the citizens of New York City. Many of his initiatives such as banning smoking in public places and cutting down on fats in foods have provided a measurable benefit to New Yorkers and life expectancy has actually gone up in Gotham City. But some people just don’t seem to know right from wrong.

I recall that when the ban on smoking in public places was initially proposed I thought that this was an unnecessary governmental intrusion. After all, the thinking went, when you go to a bar or a nightclub you expect that people will smoke and most restaurants had established no smoking sections. But what about the waiters, waitresses and bartenders?

I hadn’t thought about that angle. Bartenders, waiters and waitresses inhaled the equivalent of several packs of cigarettes every week with the attendant health issues – emphysema, cancer, etc. So banning cigarettes in bars, clubs and restaurants made a lot of sense once we started to think about the collateral consequences.

Similarly, banning the sale of half gallon size “cups” in restaurants and certain establishments did strike some as unnecessary governmental inclusion. And it might seem that way until we realize that the size of soda servings has increased to such monstrous proportions not because of consumer demand but because soda (and fast food) providers have learned that people will consume larger and larger portions if they are offered, thereby increasing profit margins.

Once we realize that humongous soda servings are not a liquid expression of individual liberty it is then time to think about the collateral consequences. The regular consumption of large amounts of empty calories has been proven to impact upon health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

While everyone is presumably entitled to kill themselves, obesity, diabetes and heart disease cause a gradual demise over a period of years rather than some dramatic departure. And during that period of years individuals suffer needlessly while they place dramatic and unnecessary burdens on the healthcare system. Reducing the size of soda servings seems like a small step when you take into account the suffering and societal expense that could be saved.

More recently, the Bloomberg administration started an ad campaign in New York trying to discourage pregnancies among teenagers. The advertisements are not cute and peppy; they tell teenagers about the real consequences of teen pregnancies – life altering, negative and mostly borne by young women. Not a snappy happy set of advertisements, but there is always the chance that a few teenagers will pay attention and in the process make decisions that will allow them (and their eventual children) to have a better quality of life.

Incredibly, Planned Parenthood criticized the ad campaign as a “scare campaign” that creates “stigma, hostility and negative public opinions about teen pregnancy”. Somehow, in the universe of the leaders of Planned Parenthood in New York City, there is something positive, ennobling and enriching about teen pregnancy and heaven forbid that someone should splash the cold water of reality on teenagers who may know how to create a pregnancy but have little or no concept about how to plan and care for the consequences.

I can only guess that the leadership of Planned Parenthood in their private lives does not soft pedal the idea of teenage pregnancy to their own children. And I am positive that the executives of Planned Parenthood do not dwell on “alternative aspirations” when discussing such a serious subject with their own teenagers.

There is a serious disconnect between the advocates of “freedom” for other people – the freedom to die of obesity, the freedom to die of lung cancer, the freedom to endure pregnancy as a teenage mother or father – “freedoms” that they would never seek for themselves or for their own children.

We can all understand the importance of principle, but principle needs to be grounded in the reality of its application and consequences.

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Point of View Columns

The Four Million Man March

Here’s a number to ponder – 4,356,927. That is the number of times people have been stopped and frisked during the ten years of the administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Keep in mind these numbers do not come from North Korea or Syria or the Gaza Strip. Over four million times in the past ten years New York City residents have been subjected to this highly questionable and absolutely intrusive police behavior. And, by the way, 80% of the individuals stopped and frisked are black and Latino men between the ages of 18-34. Do you detect a pattern here?

Outrageous strategies conducted in the name of some special purpose seem to be insulated from criticism. Waterboarding and other forms of torture have been justified in the name of national security. Mayor Bloomberg has sought to justify the stripping citizens of their personal dignity and human rights with the fig leaf of crime prevention.

The problem is that too many outrages have taken place in the name of crime prevention. That is why over the last century courts have ruled that homes cannot be entered without a warrant, that suspects cannot be questioned without having been given access to an attorney and why people cannot be beaten until they confess. There is no doubt that crime prevention would be a lot simpler if these restrictions on police conduct were not in place.

But the Constitution of the United States is not a pesky detail to be ignored or avoided whenever it is inconvenient. And the rights conferred to American citizens by the Constitution are worthless if they don’t apply to all American citizens.
The constitutional rights are not the sole possession of the white and wealthy.
Police intrusion for no reason except skin color or mode of dress should not be the sad inheritance of young men of color in New York City.

Here’s another number – 685,724. That is the number of people who have been stopped and frisked during 2011. Apologists for Mayor Bloomberg, a surprisingly number of whom are currently black and formerly prominent, drink the Bloomberg brand of Kool-Aid and point to suspect statistics that are supposed to describe a decline in the crime rate that is supposed to be totally attributable to Stop and Frisk.

But even if those statistics are true, and there are numerous law enforcement experts who dispute the statistics and the conclusion, how can the daily humiliation of thousands of human beings be justifiable? The fact that many criminal acts in New York City are committed by black and Latino young men does not mean that all, or most, black and Latino young men are criminals.

I cannot imagine the Justice Department going to Wall Street to stop and interrogate virtually all well-dressed white men between the ages of 30 and 50 just because most white collar crime is committed by that demographic cohort. How unfair and how outrageous would that be? About as unfair and outrageous as New York City’s current Stop and Frisk policy.

The worst part about this institutionalized degradation is that is turning an entire generation of young men into permanent suspects. It can only damage self-esteem and fan glowing coals of resentment and distrust that will burn for a lifetime and be passed on from generation to generation.

The men and women of the New York Police Department have a difficult and challenging task in protecting the citizens of New York City. Why Mayor Bloomberg wants to make their lives more difficult is incomprehensible.

There is no doubt that Mayor Bloomberg is a brilliant man and an incredibly successful businessman. There is also no doubt that there is an indelible tattoo of stubbornness that he doesn’t even try to conceal.

Instead he and his enablers are the perpetual organizers of a four million man march that will haunt the present and the future. The four million intrusions in to the lives of presumably innocent young men visit too many of them over and over until their only view of law enforcement is soaked in subdued rage and resentment.

If Mayor Bloomberg and his enablers wanted to create a generation of resentful and criminally-inclined young men who are leery of law enforcement and law and order, they couldn’t have come up with a better strategy than Stop and Frisk.

We will all grow old and die before Michael Bloomberg will admit that he is wrong. But he is smart enough to find a way out of this immoral morass.

It is way past time to stop Stop and Frisk.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – May 18, 2012

The aftermath of President Obama’s expression of support for same sex marriage has been, as noted before, predictable, both in the nature of the support and the opposition. Nevertheless, there is a gaggle of black ministers who are engaging in behavior that can only be described as mystifying. And this week it was announced that last year was the first year in American history when there were more non-white births than white births. The browning of America continues. And finally, in New York City, a federal court has commented on the seeming unconstitutional nature of the NYPD Stop and Frisk policy. And it’s about time.

Nose Cutting Time

“Cutting of your nose to spite your face” is an old expression with a meaning that is very clear. Damaging yourself in order to respond to a real or imagined wrong simply doesn’t make any sense.

And that’s why the frightening number of black ministers who have proclaimed their intention not to support Barack Obama’s reelection campaign because of his stance on same sex marriage is puzzling. Let us put aside the fact that the gay community has been a very real part of the black church for a very long time. Let us also put aside the fact that homosexual and heterosexual indiscretions are an unspoken part of the narrative that describes the black church in America.

While we are all entitled to our minor hypocrisies, these black pastors should not be permitted to erode and corrode the support of one of President Obama’s key constituencies over an issue that defines neither this president or the critical needs and challenges of the black community.

Gay men and women are not the reason for the unspeakable levels of black on black violence in the black community. The gay community is not wrecking the financial system nor is it shredding the social safety net that endangers the lives and welfare of so many black men, women and children.

Certainly unemployment, poor housing, poor education and mindless media assaults present greater dangers to the institution of marriage than men who love men and women who love women. And I am not aware of any gay leadership in the Tea Party movement that threatens to take this country back to the 19th century.

But finally and most importantly, where will these pompous and self-righteous pastors go to hide their stained and miserable consciences if their statements of moral indignation serve to facilitate the election of Mitt Romney and open the floodgates to the Tea Party hordes that are hammering at the gates of good government?

Problem Solved

The recent announcement that non-white births are now exceeding white births in this country might help to solve a nagging question. For the past few years I have wondered at the willingness of the Teapublicans and the right wing of the right wing to abandon the future for the sake of the present.

While proclaiming concern for “the children of future generations”, the Teapublican agenda has called for “shrinking government to a size where it can be drowned in a bath tub”. This paints a very dull and gray picture for these “future generations”.

However, it may be that the Teapublicans have been reading their tea leaves and have seen the writing on the demographic wall. If indeed America is going to be less white and more black and brown, it seems that the singularly monochromatic Teapublicans do not want this darker future generation to have access to the public benefits that whiter generations of the past enjoyed. And they certainly do not intend to pay for it.

This would explain the contention that Americans will need to be more “self-reliant” and that the age of so-called entitlements will have to come to an end. And all along diminishing tax revenues so that government services will contract is the daily catechism of the right wing of the right wing.

The underlying rationale for the Teapublican philosophy is before us in black and white and brown.

The Saga of Stop and Frisk

I have previously pointed out the unconstitutional aspect of the New York Police Department “stopping and frisking” hundreds of thousands of black and Latino young men in the name of crime prevention. The fact that New York has enjoyed a reduction in crime does not justify this most severe intrusion into the lives of innocent people. Indeed, if everyone were to be arrested then there would be no crime but hopefully no one thinks that is a good idea….yet.

Now a federal court has indicated that there is a very real possibility that this policing policy may be declared unconstitutional. New York Mayor Bloomberg and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly are staunch supporters of “stop and frisk” and minimize the impact of over 600,000 such stops in the past year (over 80% of the “stopped” individuals were black and Latino).

However, the children of privileged and secure white men are not being stopped. I doubt that Mayor Bloomberg or Commissioner Kelly have any personal acquaintances whose children have been “stopped and frisked”. The institutional assault on the rights and privacy of hundreds of thousands of young men cannot have a good long term result.

Certainly the community resentment and cynicism in the long term far outweighs any short term crime reduction that may be taking place. Chipping away at respect for law enforcement and building enmity just doesn’t sound like a plan for the future on which we can rely.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Calling All Rich People….

During the past few years Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have taken an admirable leadership role in urging their fellow billionaires and multi-millionaires to donate their vast fortunes to charity when they die. They have advocated returning their wealth to the people rather than simply enriching their heirs.

It is a noble and uplifting gesture and many of the super wealthy have committed to putting huge charitable donations in their will. All across the United States and around the world charities are monitoring the health of Michael Bloomberg, Larry Ellison, Mr. Buffett, Mr. Gates and many more.

The weeping and gnashing of teeth that you hear would be coming from the heirs who are being denied the opportunity to become junior Midases.

While there is no denying the nobility of donating one’s fortune to charity at death, there is certainly no sacrifice involved. In fact, it could be argued that the only sacrifice that is being made is the sacrifice that is imposed upon the would-be heirs and heiresses of the wealthy who are typically being asked to scrape by on a measly $50 million for the rest of their lives.

While battling world poverty and global misery are noble causes indeed, I am suggesting that these crusading Croesuses remember the axiom about charity beginning at home.

I am, of course, referring to the burgeoning financial crisis in the United States. It is causing some members of Congress and state legislatures across the country to contend that government can not only no longer afford to feed the hungry, house the homeless or help the helpless. Some like Governor Walker of Wisconsin have gone so far as to state that governments cannot even pay public employees fair, negotiated wages.

The reason for this Scrooge-like approach to government and the public it is meant to serve is the budget deficit, especially at the federal level. There are many reasons for the multi-trillion dollar deficit – cash bleeding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that total almost 2 decades in the aggregate, herculean efforts to prop up the economy after the magic tricks of Wall Street ran out of magic and……………….tax cuts to the wealthy.

Most of the federal deficit is derived from the wars started by George W. Bush and…….the tax cuts to the wealthy. The new additions to the deficit during the Obama years have been due to efforts to bring about an economic recovery and……tax cuts to the wealthy.

That would be wealthy people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. That would be billionaires and miega-millionairs who seemingly can’t wait to die so that they can give away their billions and millions.

These would be the same billionaires who seem to think that paying their fair share of taxes while living wouldn’t be fair.

There is simply no hope in hoping that Congress will get the will to impose fair taxes on the wealthy so that veterans won’t be homeless and poor children will not be denied food and pre-school education.

The G.O.Tea Party stalwarts in Congress would rather see job training centers closed and health clinics shuttered than face the horrific notion of billionaires scraping by with a few million dollars less every year.

Perhaps the fact that the majority of the incoming Republican freshmen members of Congress are millionaires or the fact that virtually all of the United States Senators are millionaires has something to do with their cult-like adherence to protecting the loot of the rich.

Whatever the case, this change will certainly not come from Capitol Hill.

So I am proposing that, in teaching eleemosynary and selfless behavior to their fellow lords of the manor, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett take the lead in getting billionaires and millionaires to push for real tax reform.

Instead of refusing to pay taxes, the plutocracy of America can direct their tax advisors and counselors of evasion to waive deductions and reductions in their tax bills. They could also summon their Congressional representatives and demand that they take action.

Congress will never act on its own on this issue. President Obama has already been smeared as a socialist just for saving hundreds of thousands of jobs related to the auto and financial service industries. He has prudently avoided being labeled a card carrying communist by not taking the lead on this aspect of tax reform.

This version of tax reform – the wealthy doing the unthinkable, actually paying taxes at the same rate of someone making $50,000 per year, is an idea whose time has come.

Larry Ellison might have one less yacht, Oprah Winfrey might have one less Maybach, Michael Bloomberg might have a slightly smaller jet in his private fleet – but somehow I think that they can make it.

Just think. Rather than waiting until they die so that they can feel better about themselves, the wealthy can hear the applause and acclaim for their selflessness while they are still alive to enjoy it.

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