Dear Don Lemon: 'Stop-and-frisk' isn't effective no matter what you call it
I know we have had our differences, and I am probably not the sister you want to hear from right now. I did, after all, unleash a torrent of tweets lambasting you for your hurtful, tragically simplistic and condescending approach to pervasive poverty, largely concentrated in our nation’s urban centers. And, well, I did follow up with a column that spelled out the complex pathologies that continue to cripple and destroy the quality of life in our communities. You focused on litter, for instance, when you should have been talking about environmental justice.
Or maybe I’m wrong. It’s quite possible that your recent antics are planned. Maybe, you like it when we call your name.
After all, what else could this be about?
According to your commentary on The Tom Joyner Morning Show, you seem to support stop-and-frisk as a legitimate community policing method. If only people really understood that it’s actually stop-‘question’-and-frisk, you said. It’s a minor inconvenience after all, right? Answer a few questions, get a quick pat down and you’re on your way. If we only understood, you opined, that this affront to human rights is actually protecting the black community — from itself.
Never mind the statistical evidence that squashes the very notion that stop-and-frisk is effective. Never mind that the Fourth Amendment protects our right to privacy. Ever heard of illegal search and seizure?
I have to wonder what was going through your mind back in 2001, when a plain-clothes security guard accosted you outside of a record store. You were a local, general assignment reporter back then and had not made your mark nationally. So we will have to forgive the security guard for not recognizing you right away when he followed you for two blocks. It must have been quite a shock to have been unfairly accused of stealing that compact disc player.
Sure, you had a receipt, he did not have any identification and I am certain your belt was tight. According to press reports, he pushed you — an upstanding, professional black man — into traffic when you tried to get into your car. And when the police came, even though you called them for help, you were told to “shut up and sit” in your car. That is until a second officer recognized you.
Water under the bridge, right Don? Just an inconvenience we should all endure in the name of fighting crime. By your current logic, they were all just doing their jobs.
But back then, you saw things differently. And, well, I cannot say that I disagree—with the old Don. You felt so strongly about protecting your rights, that you sued Tower Records for $50,000.
“This is a shopping while black case,” your attorney said at the time. “No matter how educated you are or what kind of job you hold, you are still presumed to be a criminal if you’re of a certain ethnic background.”
Don, given what happened to you over a decade ago, you could not possibly believe that black men and boys in this country have somehow forfeited their civil liberties based on where they live or the clothes on their backs. You could not possibly believe that our justice system has the right to effectively exempt young black men from the Equal Protection Clause. You could not possibly believe that probable cause should not be just as important in Marcy Housing Projects as it is Park Slope.
“Would you rather be politically correct or safe and alive?” you asked on the nationally syndicated radio show.
Surely, you do not believe you are different from the millions of innocent people of color who are routinely rousted by police officers and security guards in cities across the country.
Or maybe you do. Or maybe, you are acting out of self-interest.
When I heard about all of this, I have to say that I was not surprised. I mean, to be honest, it would not be like you to look beyond the trumped-up talking points and manipulated crime statistics. It would not be like you to delve deep into the critical issues confronting black America today.
Over-policing is simply a shortcut to over-incarceration, you must know. The criminalization of broad swaths of the community is designed to feed the ever-hungry prison industrial complex. Stop-and-frisk is nothing more than political chest thumping.
If indeed you had anything more than a nascent curiosity about what truly drives poverty and violent crime, more than a scintilla of interest in what it takes to make wholesale change in the most distressed communities, it is not readily apparent in your body of work.
You have a powerful platform within a global news organization. I believe that carries a great deal of responsibility. You accept that obligation each and every time they powder your nose and turn on the Klieg lights.
We all do.
But if I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times: Be careful who you let tell your story.