Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Young, Black and Seized in New York

Nicholas K. Peart writes in The New York Times about being stopped and frisked by the New York city police five times in the five years since his 18th birthday. He's Black. Sometimes a horrid truth is so simple, so eloquent and so heart-breaking.

I was stopped and frisked by the police in Philadelphia while simply walking down the street a block from my house. It was 1969, I was 19, and I had long hair and beard.

Today, some of my best friends are former cops. I greatly admire cops who are professionals and respect the very hard, challenging work that many of them do in serving the public. But as I look inside in my heart, I see I harbor a deep seated contempt for cops as a stereotype.

Now, I am very safe from cops. My silvery gray hair is neatly barbered, my white face is clean-shaven, my clothes are in good repair, as is my car. I live in a "good neighborhood," and, at my age, I am rarely out late at night. As I say, now, I am safe from cops -- because of my race, my class status, and my age.

But to state what should be obvious: the protection of the U.S. Constitution of "the right of the people to be secure in their persons. . . against unreasonable searches and seizures" (4th Amendment) which are among "the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States (14th Amendment) not to be abridged by any State law are NOT supposed to kick in only for the old, white, conformist-looking or middle class!

Today, we mark the passing of Vaclav Havel, and honor the courageous man who challenged the Communists in Czechoslovakia; a man sent to prison four times before he became that nation's first modern democratically elected President. Throughout most of my life, during the "Cold War," Americans were keenly aware of the evils of the Communist police states.

As a young man, I imagined that everyone behind the Iron curtain was also keenly aware of and resentful of their police state, and looked forward to replacing it. Who would continue to tolerate the invasion of liberty of an arrogant police arbitrarily seizing people? However, perhaps I was as naive about this? (Perhaps as naive as was Vice President Richard Cheney imagining the turning of the Iraqi people against the regime of Saddam Hussein upon an invasion by American troops.)

My reaction to Nicholas K. Peart's op-ed reveals how much I have inured myself to the constancy of police abuse of their power.

It is a mark of triumph that the American police have so veiled their invasions of our dignity, our privacy and our liberty that the invasions are blurred and come into our focus only rarely, such as with publication of an op-ed such as Nicholas K. Peart's.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: