Above photo: SETH WENIG/AP
People protested. People marched. A good cop who blew the whistle ended up thrown in a mental hospital. Mayor Bloomberg refused to back down. Civil liberties and civil rights groups filed a lawsuit. The stop-and-frisk numbers started falling, finally, while the lawsuit moved forward. The judge then ruled the program unconstitutional. The next mayoral campaign turned on one candidate’s vocal rejection of stop-and-frisk. The good guys won. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that activism doesn’t matter.
Stop-and-frisk numbers are down 90 percent in New York City from the peak in early 2012. Ninety percent. In Harlem, they are down 96 percent in the same period. Misdemeanor arrests for drugs shot up when stop-and-frisk numbers jumped during the 2000s, but are now lower than they’ve been since before 2003. What about violent crime in the city? It’s been going down drastically for over twenty years (in New York and nationally, even if people don’t necessarily know it), and has continued to drop since 2013—both overall and in the neighborhoods with the most stop-and-frisk encounters.
Lest anyone forget, stop-and-frisk was a terrible scourge on the lives of poor, young black men in particular, many of whom were stopped over and over again, despite having done nothing wrong. Since 2002, almost 90 percent of all stops resulted neither in an arrest or even a fine. And things are by no means perfect now. People in many neighborhoods remain scarred by the old stop-and-frisk policy.
But my point is this. Just as we must fight injustice, we must recognize and, yes, celebrate our victories over injustice, victories that have a real impact on lives and communities. People love a winner. They want to make an impact. When we ask for help and support in our fights, we can tell them that we shall overcome, because we’ve shown that we know how. That will help us win more fights against injustice in the future.