#nn12 Archives - The Jose Vilson


On Saturday, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous spoke to the Netroots Nation crowd around one of the organization’s pivotal efforts: ending New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy [and preventing said policy from spreading to other major cities]. His impassioned speech made me tap my feet, blanking out to the sounds of an aggression unaddressed by the larger progressive communities. While he spoke, I noticed two halves of my table, one who listened intently on what Jealous had delivered to a mostly Caucasian, Democratic crowd and the other faction a set of people who would scream bloody murder if such a policy affected their clique, but it didn’t, so they ignored it.

Alas, for so many of us, the stop-and-frisk policy aligns with the general dispassion towards the condition of others locally except when directly affected. In a town replete with activists and do-gooders, young Black and Latino men getting stopped and frisked by police officers on the basis of their looks follows the narrative of certain populations somehow deserving such treatment. In this narrative, young men of color commit the most crime, do the most harm to society, put the biggest burden on their general populace, so when they do get stopped randomly for no apparent reason, that helps reduce crimes that haven’t been committed yet.

In this narrative, we get to perpetuate the stereotype of this specific group as local terrorists. And it’s wrong.

As a native of NYC, I can say I’ve never been stopped and frisk. Unfortunately, that makes me the exception that proves the rule. The statistics lie so heavily against people that look like me that I often wonder how I avoided such a fate. Maybe a cab finally came down for me. Maybe I didn’t stop at my favorite bar that one night. Maybe I had on my lucky shoes the few times it could have happened to me. It’s happened to friends who I had appointments with that day or it had just happened to. On their way to school, back from school, to their girlfriend’s house, on their way to church, to their mother’s house.


Stop and frisk doesn’t just emasculate the (very often) innocent; it continues the legacy of this specific group as second-class citizens. How do we expect citizens of this country to believe in this country’s values when we don’t offer the same rights and liberties to all of them? As a matter of fact, we can’t seek peace across the Atlantic when we can’t stop the war happening across the street.

As a young father of color, I now have the additional responsibility of teaching my son how to prepare for the cops. Much the way I have to advocate for improved curriculum and de-escalation of testing in our public schools, I must advocate for improved relationships and de-escalation of aggression on behalf of the NYPD. A big step towards that is by ending stop-and-frisk.

If you’re in my table listening to this, no longer can you claim naivete. We need you to end it, too.

Jose, who needs another change of venue …

p.s. – In case you need information, my colleague Marvin Bing, Northeast Regional Director of the NAACP and a Harlem native, shared this with me, so I’m hoping you’ll read up, too.

What “Stop and Frisk” Means:  The situation in which a police officer who is suspicious of an individual detains the person and runs his hands lightly over the suspect’s outer garments to determine if the person is carrying a concealed weapon.

One of the most controversial police procedures is the stop and frisk search. This type of limited search occurs when police confront a suspicious person in an effort to prevent a crime from taking place. The police frisk (pat down) the person for weapons and question the person.

A stop is different from an arrest. An arrest is a lengthy process in which the suspect is taken to the police station and booked, whereas a stop involves only a temporary interference with a person’s liberty. If the officer uncovers further evidence during the frisk, the stop may lead to an actual arrest, but if no further evidence is found, the person is released.

Unlike a full search, a frisk is generally limited to a patting down of the outer clothing. If the officer feels what seems to be a weapon, the officer may then reach inside the person’s clothing. If no weapon is felt, the search may not intrude further than the outer clothing.


NAACP President on why we are standing against Stop and Frisk
Over 4 Years, Nearly 52,000 Stops on one block; Brooklyn
Why Stop and Frisk must End- Huffington Post
Keys Facts:
1. In 2011, NYC officers made 685,724 stops as part of the “stop-and-frisk” policy. Of that group, 605,328 people were determined not to have engaged in any unlawful behavior. [NYCLU]

2. Only 5.37% of all stops in a recent five-year period resulted in an arrest. In short, many people stopped did nothing wrong. [NYT, 5/17/12]

3. In 2009, 36% of the time officer failed to list an acceptable “suspected crime.” Reasonable suspicion of a crime is required to make a stop. [NYT,5/17/12]

4. More than half of all stops last year were conducted “because the individual displayed ‘furtive movement’ — which is so vague as to be meaningless.”[NYT, 5/14/12]

5. Of those frisked in 2011, a weapon was found just 1.9% of the time. Frisks are supposed to be conducted “only when an officer reasonably suspects the person has a weapon.” [NYCLU]

6. 85% of those stopped were black or Hispanic even though those groups make up about half of NYC’s population. [NYT, 5/17/12]

7. Young black and Latino men account for 4.7% of NYC’s population but 41.6% of the stops in 2011. [NYCLU]

8. The number of stops involving young black men in 2011 (168,124) exceed the city’s population of young black men (158,406).[NYT, 5/15/12]

9. Even in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, police stopped more blacks than whites.[NYT, 5/15/12]

10. In 2012, police are on pace to make more than 800,000 stops, more than twice the population of Miami. [NYT, 5/15/12]


This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Netroots Nation 2012 in Providence, RI as a panelist for “Education as a Right-Wing Wedge Issue” featuring Sabrina Stevens, Martha Infante, and Karran Harper Royal. While on the train towards the festivities, I came across a passage in my current book Malcolm X, A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable, and it continues to shake so much of what I believed about Malcolm. Marable posthumously thumbs his nose at so-called Malcolm scholars, but, more importantly, he inspires us to think of Malcolm’s life in layers and not one of strict demigod orthodoxy.

In light of this weekend’s events, I was particularly struck by the following passage. To give some content, one of Malcolm X’s good friends in Los Angeles had been shot to death by police officers, bringing the discussion of whether Malcolm should retaliate politically or not to the fore of the organization.

<quote>At heart, the disagreement between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad went deeper than the practical question of how to respond to the Los Angeles police assault. Almost from the moment Muhammad had been informed about the raid and Stokes’ death, he viewed the tragedy as stemming from a lack of courage by Mosque No. 27′s members. “Every one of the Muslims should have died,” he was reported to have said, “before they allowed an aggressor to come into their mosque.” Muhammad believed Stokes had died from weakness, because he had attempted to surrender to the police. Malcolm could hardly stomach such an idea, but having submitted to the Messenger’s authority, he repeated the arguments as his own inside Mosque No. 7. James 67x listened as Malcolm told the congregation, “We are not Christians(s). We are not to turn the other cheek, but the laborers [NOI members] have gotten so comfortable that in dealing with the devil they will submit to hum … If a blow is struck against you, fight back.” The brothers in the Los Angeles mosque who resisted had lived. Roland Stokes submitted and was killed.

Some of Malcolm’s closest associates were persuaded that Elijah Muhammad had made the correct decision, at least on the issue of retaliation. Benjamin 2X Goodman, for one, would later declare, “Mr. Muhammad said, ‘All in good time’ … and he was right. The police were ready. It would have been a trap.” But Malcolm himself was humiliated by the NOI’s failure to defend its own members. Everything that he had experienced over the previous years – from mobilizing thousands in the streets around Hinton’s beating in 1957 to working with Philip Randolph to build a local black united front in 1961 – 62 – told him that the Nation could protect its members only though joint action with civil rights organizations an other religious groups. One could not simply leave everything to Allah.

The last line particularly struck me. Smacked me ’til my cheek swelled, even. In many of our jobs, we’re often asked to take on tasks and do things completely against our core values. We often use cognitive dissonance to persuade ourselves against our true nature. We say we’re doing it for the kids when, often, we’re doing it to make sure we can teach another day. We bite our tongue at the exorbitant amounts of testing pushed upon our students’ desks because we’ve convinced ourselves that these methods are the only ways the state will let us advance our students to the next level. We keep our mouths shut at the racists who say only effort matter and show disrespect towards parents who can’t be there for their kids because they’re actually working. We focus intently on our lesson plans, sure, but sometimes we forget that we teach to students not to the curriculum.

As my snickers have gotten louder and my head has shaken more vigorously, I needed an oasis to lodge these concerns, not as complaints but as points by which to connect educators and citizens across the nation around these central ideas. For this weekend, that was Netroots Nation. How often do we get the privilege to come together with people already doing some of this work and with people with a similar, hopeful progressive vision and at least lay a foundation for making something happen?

Instead of keeping quiet, I’ve rededicated myself to that voice, having clarity in thought and mind about these things, and speaking up in ways people can understand. We can no longer wait for others to come and lead us because, as it turns out, those people are not too far away from you and me. The conversation needs as much “leader and follower” bits as “can we work together on these things” bits. If we can coalesce around a few tenets, then we can make a huge difference.

Education is political, and asking for us to strictly focus on content belies the true nature of the beast. We cannot leave it up to our chosen divinity for such things. Surely.

Jose, who is thanking Sabrina Stevens for the umpteenth time here …