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December 20, 2013 9:52 AM Stop and Frisk Is Everywhere

By Ryan Cooper

Today we’ve got a sneak peek of our new issue (which will be coming out December 26th). It’s a really great piece by Charles Epp and Steven Maynard-Moody, about how stop-and-frisk-style tactics are rampant across America:

What few Americans (or at least white Americans) know is that stop and frisk is not limited to New York City. Versions of the policy are in place across the country. And just as in New York, whatever crime-fighting benefits derive from the policy come at the expense of contravening basic American principles of equal treatment under the law and of angering law-abiding minority citizens whose support and cooperation the police need to fight crime.

Epp and Maynard-Moody have something I’ve never seen before, in the form of statistics about how bad this is. When it comes to stops based on traffic violations, blacks and whites have it about the same. But when it comes to so-called “investigatory stops,” where the officer is pulling people over based on suspicion, prejudice crops up in a big way:

The key influence on who is stopped in traffic safety stops is how you drive; in investigatory stops it is who you are, and being black is the leading influence. In traffic safety stops, being black has no influence: African Americans are not significantly more likely than whites to be stopped for clear traffic safety law violations. But in investigatory stops, a black man age twenty-five or younger has a 28 percent chance of being stopped for an investigatory reason over the course of a year; a similar young white man has a 12.5 percent chance, and a similar young white woman has only a 7 percent chance. And this is after taking into account other possible influences on being stopped, like how you drive. Police focus investigatory stops on younger people, and so as people grow older they are less likely to be stopped in this way. But a black man must reach fifty—well into the graying years—before his risk of an investigatory stop drops below that of a white man under age twenty-five. Overall, black drivers are nearly three times more likely than whites to be subjected to investigatory stops.
Being black is also the leading influence on how far police officers pursue their inquisition in investigatory stops. In these stops, full-blown vehicle searches are relatively common. After taking into account other possible influences, black drivers in our survey were five times more likely than whites to be subjected to searches in investigatory stops. Searches are remarkably rare in traffic safety stops, and the driver’s race has no influence on whether the driver is searched in these stops.

As Epp and Maynard-Moody explain, this quite naturally inspires massive suspicion and distrust among African-American communities—as Ta-Nehisi Coates put it in an excellent recent piece, black folks often experience the police as something akin to an extraordinarily powerful pack of gangsters:

What people who have never lived in these neighborhoods must get, is that, like the crooks, killers, and gangs, the police are another violent force that must be negotiated and dealt with. But unlike the gangs, the violence of the police is the violence of the state, and thus unaccountable to North Lawndale. That people who represent North Lawndale laugh at the idea of handing over more tools of incarceration to law enforcement is unsurprising.

The whole piece is really worth a read. Check it out.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper

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