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Children Playing Basketball

Photo by US National Archives | flickr creative commons

They were walking this time. But I guess it does not matter whether you are standing still, walking or just sitting. If you are a young African American man living in an urban area you are fair game for stop and frisk” and other methods of preventive policing” used by police officers .

Just this past December some basketball players in Rochester, New York, were stopped and arrested while waiting for a bus to come and pick them up for a basketball game. The story went viral.

Now we have a story about some African American basketball players in Philadelphia who were on their way to basketball practice when one of them was arrested and sexually assaulted by several white police officers. He was taken to a local hospital and the injury may leave him unable to bear children” because the vein that enables sperm to travel to the penis [had to be] reconstructed.” Given it was so cold, the players were wearing scarves to cover their faces. The scarves were given to them by the school principal.

Believe it or not, this young man was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest.”

Understandably, the African American community is enraged and various protests are being carried out. There will be an emergency town meeting on January 21 to discuss the case.

This is apparently the most recent in a long line of cases in Philadelphia where the police have engaged in such practices. This past November the police stopped two young African American men and then arrested an African American woman who asked why the officers had stopped them.

Last August a judge in a class-action lawsuit ruled that the stop-and-frisk policy” of the NYPD violated citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights.” The judge said that the NYPD made at least 200,000 stops from 2004 to June 2012 without reasonable suspicion.” He also noted that more than 80% of those stops-and-frisks involved Blacks or Hispanics.”

That judge received that data from a study by the New York ACLU in their on-going investigation of stop and frisk.” On their website, the ACLU presents more detailed data. For instance, in 2012 a total of 532,911 stops were made; of these 89% turned out to be innocent of any crime; 55% were black and 32% were Latino. More detailed information is provided in quarterly reports filed by NYPD, which can be viewed here.

Recently Seattle settled a law suit with the Department of Justice by agreeing to establishing new policies that would reduce such incidents. An investigation found that Seattle police officers routinely used excessive force, most often against people of color and the psychologically or chemically impaired.”

This problem exists all over the country and has existed for many years. These kinds of policies are reminiscent of Jim Crow” policing.

It never seems to end. Early in my academic career I recall reading about these practices by police departments. Virtually every major riot (especially in the 1960s) began with one of these kinds of incidents. You would think that given all the research that has been conducted during the past 50 years, plus all the improvements in technology during this time, that law enforcement would have improved their record. Sadly there has been little change. No wonder almost half of all black men will be arrested by the age of 23!