Monday’s Mtg: Racial Profiling and Stop and Frisk.

Racial profiling is one of those issues that most members of our discussion group probably have very little feel for. Most of us, I’ll bet, have never lived in a neighborhood where young people are routinely stopped and scrutinized by the police, or in one with the crime levels that are used to justify the practice. Racial profiling has been illegal since 1968, when SCOTUS ruled that police cannot legally search someone solely on the grounds that their race or ethnicity makes them “suspicious.” But, the police still have enormous discretion in who they can stop and search and how, and young men/women in many poor communities of color are subject to interrogation and search by law enforcement whenever they leave the house.

Allegations of racial profiling and debates about its effectiveness have been in the news a lot the past few years. In 2013, a court struck down NYC’s controversial “stop and frisk” program, wherein law enforcement made it a deliberate practice to stop lots and lots of people on the street and search them for weapons and contraband. Mayor Giuliani and others argued that it lowered crime in the city and that the inconvenience to law-abiding citizens was worth it. Opponents said stop and frisk violated the rights of tens of thousands of innocent people, did not cause NYC’s drop in crime, and amounted to a kind of tax on poor people of color. Racial profiling also has been a huge issue in immigration, via Arizona’s A.B. 1070 “papers please” law, and in the anti- terrorism realm since 9/11.

We have a special guest Monday night, via Carl, who will talk about another topic and answer questions for the first 20 minutes. Then, I’ll give a very brief issue intro on our main topic and open it up. Let’s all stretch ourselves a little on this one and try to imagine how other people’s experiences might lead them to see the world differently than we do.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is “racial profiling?” Why is it outlawed and what discretion do the police still have to search someone based partially on their appearance?
  2. Stop and frisk: Does it work? How high are the costs to poor communities of color and how do they compare to the benefits of falling crime (if it does that)? Also, who should get to decide what to do?
  3. Read the articles below on what it feels like to be racially profiled. Does this move you to think differently about our topic?
  4. Immigration: Any unique issues that make racial profiling more or less permissible?
  5. Terrorism: Same question.

Links —

Next Week:  How to handle territorial disputes in the 21st century.  (Iraq and Israel/Palestinians, anybody?)

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