Is Obama Poised To Create Stop-and-Frisk Nation?

Amidst national debates around racial profiling, Obama endorses the head cheerleader for stop-and-frisk policies to head Homeland Security.

By Brentin Mock Jul 18, 2013

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama endorsed New York City police commissioner, and stop-and-frisk cheerleader, Ray Kelly as an adequate replacement for Janet Napolitano as head of the Department of Homeland Security. Under Kelly, the New York Police Department’s policy on randomly stopping people in the streets and then questioning and patting them down for weapons and drugs, imposed a stiff burden on black and Latino residents. According to the ACLU in New York, between 2002 and 2011, black and Latino New Yorkers made up close to 90 percent of those stopped by police — 88 percent of whom had no weapons or drugs on them when it happened. Kelly has staunchly defended the policy regardless of the racial profiling it codifies and its fruitless conclusions. 

But Obama told Univision on Wednesday that "Kelly has obviously done an extraordinary job in New York," and that the police commissioner is "one of the best there is" — an "outstanding leader in New York."

"Mr. Kelly might be very happy where he is," said Obama. "But if he’s not I’d want to know about it. ‘Cause, you know, obvioiusly he’d be very well qualified for the job."

This endorsement seems tone deaf given the current conversations nationwide around national security.  Kelly’s "extraordinary" work in New York City has led to the city council passing the Community Safety Act, which scales back the police’s ability to racially profile considerably. Kelly’s stop-and-frisk policy is being challenged in federal court by the Center for Constitutional Rights right now. Obama’s own Justice Department may be sending in a federal monitor to ensure that NYPD stops racial profiling. The following, questioning and apprehension of targeted black males is at the crux of the current debate around George Zimmerman’s killing Trayvon Martin

In the same week that Obama asked, in response to the Zimmerman verdict, if "we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities," the Kelly that Obama has endorsed has insisted that NYPD "disproportionately stop[s] whites too much and minorities too little." Besides the fact that 90 percent of those stopped were black or Latino, he’s also conducted widespread surveillance programs targeting Muslims, as reported by the New York ACLU. The judge in the federal lawsuit has not taken kindly to Kelly’s skewed racial statistics. In that federal trial, state Sen. Eric Adams, a retired NYPD captain, testified that Kelly told him stop-and-frisk was "targeted and focused on" black and Latino New Yorkers "because he wanted to instill fear in them that every time that they left their homes they could be targeted by police."

Last year, Kelly told Esquire magazine that stop-and-frisk "is a lifesaver," responsible for crime going down 80 percent over the previous two decades. He bragged that in 2011, 8,000 weapons were confiscated through stop-and-frisk. 

The ACLU’s fact sheet on stop-and-frisk says the decline in murder began before 2002, when Kelly became commissioner and that it hasn’t reduced the number of shootings much — "In 2002, there were 1,892 victims of gunfire and 97,296 stops. In 2011, there were still 1,821 victims of gunfire but a record 685,724 stops," reads the sheet.

Also, the ACLU found that guns were uncovered in less than .2 percent of the stops, making stop-and-frisk "an intrusive, wasteful and humiliating police action."

Is this what the entire nation will look like under a Kelly Homeland Security administration?

Last month our editor Kai Wright made the link between the online data-mining intrusion of the federal government with the profiling policies of Kelly. 

The logic used to defend secretly collecting the communications data of people not accused of any crime is the same logic used to defend NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program and Homeland Security’s deportation apparatus. The logic of "national security" was developed and honed by law enforcement practices inside communities of color. It is one of the more striking examples of a basic truth: racial injustice is cancerous; it eats the national body from the inside out.