Reality Check: Stop & Frisk – Crime, Freedom & The Urban Myth

It has taken a while—14 years to be exact—for NYC to be up in arms about this hilariously unconstitutional Stop & Frisk policy.

After 9/11/2001, of course, all bets were off. But unlike the outrageous vagaries of the deplorable Patriot Act and the wild nonsense perpetuated by the FBI and the NSA (which has suddenly gotten everyone from right wingers to the leftiest lefties in a tizzy), Stop & Frisk was implemented in 1999. This was a far different and more docile NYC than it had been 10 years prior; before Rudolf Giuliani swept in with a Law & Order mandate not seen in generations. Back then, NYC was winding down its decades of decay, crime sprees and overall mayhem that seemed to attract a gritty, Wild West mentality that inevitably turned ugly and painful and was costing the greatest city in the world millions in lost business and lawsuits while overtaxing its police, fire department and EMT personnel.

While it seems unconscionable now, the city’s glorious comeback from the early ‘90s and the booming national economy allowed the Big Blue Line to sneak in its Stop & Frisk, which is described in no uncertain terms by a 1999 Attorney General Report as “A person is temporarily detained on the street against his or her will for purposes of questioning.”

Everyone was giddy. The city was infused with new businesses and construction, Times Square was alive with touristy junk and loud noise and flash that did not emanate from gunshots or sirens or police and ambulance lights. It was high times, bub; and nobody gave a flying fart about who was being frisked or why.

In fact, there are many instances after 9/11 that the draconian Stop & Frisk policy came in handy; specifically halting the kind of the shenanigans unleashed on Boston during its annual marathon a few months back. Hell, after the tanks left the Lincoln Tunnel entrance and the helicopters quit spinning around the Statue of Liberty, a few undesirables being patted down under suspicion seemed like child’s play around here.

And, truth be told, as many of us who actually spent time in NYC in the ‘80s and early ‘90s knew well; there was not a whole lot of law being adhered to nor any semblance of order. For instance, in the period between 1987 and 1995, yours truly suffered several stints of victimhood; car theft, assaults, hit and runs from gypsy cabs, stolen radios, clothes and other items from several cars and friends’ cars; a harried chase by obvious maniacs in several cars at ludicrous speeds through dozens of red lights over curbs and up the island of Manhattan all the way to a police station in Croton panting like refugees. My father was mugged in broad daylight upon returning to the city after working there for 30 years. The guy was here 20 minutes before being jacked by two thugs outside his hotel.

Not to be undone, the abandon displayed by these assailants had fueled my already unhinged stylings, allowing me to best take full advantage of this palate of lunacy. It was all made manifest in quite an unruly spree of moving violations across all five boroughs that today are so abjectly embarrassing to recall that only a nod to the statute of limitations would permit me to even broach them.

Suffice to say, I was so horrifying reckless during these times that I considered (but never acquiesced) to just copping to the damn things and turning myself in. Once, no maybe twice, I nearly slammed a careening vehicle into a police car whilst driving in a manner better suited to fiction; never once seeing so much as a ticket. One time the policeman simply rolled down his window and asked if I was “fucking nuts,” to which I had to admit I certainly was—certifiably so. It is the only explanation; that and the fact I routinely witnessed vehicular crimes the likes of which could fill 60 of these columns.

So, let’s face it; Stop & Frisk seemed like the normal evolution for pulling the entire madness out of the quagmire. I might have even gotten in on the fun for kicks. Shit, authority in those days meant whoever was around. Cops would show up only if something was on fire, mostly if it was not the elderly or a ghetto kid. I had an entire staff of Coney Island police laugh in my face when I spastically burst in and announced that my car was stolen. It was the 16th such auto theft that morning.

Now, however, it seems like this stroll down Marshall Law lane has gone awry. Shocker. How could unchecked systemic aggression not work?

It seems the percentage of minorities compared to whites being routinely stopped for no reason has alarmed many, even those running for mayor—all adopting an anti-Stop & Frisk stance. This kind of shameless political pandering would seem excessive if not for the lockdown policies of the current mayoral administration stretching to the absolute ridiculous, whether it being the size of one’s soda or the amount of salt being administered at greasy spoons. Not to mention I can no longer smoke a cigar in Washington Square Park.

Washington Square Park; where in the late ‘80s I could get crack, smack, six teenaged hookers and a machine gun in a three-minute stroll from 5th Avenue to Thompson Street. Now that’s quite the odyssey from anarchy to tyranny.

But this is NYC, and not the South, for which this space has given it good. And since I was born and raised here and not down where the stupid and crazy are in charge, I can only reiterate that this is wrong. Stopping someone for no good reason, whatever the race, in this city of cities is even more deplorable than the sillies in Arizona who order the harassing of citizens until they make with identification, or Florida, where it is not only legal to murder anyone for anything, it is encouraged.

But, listen, we all know the minute this thing is rightfully expunged from the books, the crime rate will go up or some shithead from Staten Island is going to blow up the Chrysler Building and everyone will want it back.

Don’t look at me. I’ve calmed down considerably. It’s been at least eight months since I backed up on 12th Street for three blocks in stop dead traffic to get back to through traffic on Washington Street.

I’m a changed man, and so is my city.

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James Campion is the Managing Editor of the Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus” and “Midnight for Cinderella”