Sunday, August 16, 2015

Stop and Frisk is sooo 19th Century - it really is

How does a TV documentary about farming in Victorian England take one to 21st Century policing?

You must have heard of "stop and frisk", a police procedure in which police stop a person and search him or her for "weapons and other contraband". In the United States, the policy made most headlines in New York City when alleged abuses and racial profiling were reported, and the policy was challenged in court.
In Europe, the most noted stop and frisk city is London, and headlines plus disturbing Youtube videos show similar issues as in New York.

Of course, you have guessed the answer: stop and frisk is not new. This page of the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School talks about a case out of Ohio in 1967, and this Wikipedia article states in a somewhat obtuse fashion that the policy 'was adopted from English law', a phrase that almost always indicates more history behind a current day phenomenon. The footnote accompanying this sentence points to a legal paper 'Stop and Frisk: An Historical Answer to a Modern Problem'.

The abstract of the paper published in 1967 tells us that English nightwatchmen could detain night-walkers until these could explain why they were out and about. English police were given the power in 1839 to detain someone if they could be reasonably suspected of possessing stolen goods.

How did that turn out, you ask?

In exactly the same way as it would over 150 years later in New York and London, except that Victorian Britain abused Irish, factory workers, dirt poor Londoners, and tenant farmers in the absence of enough Latinos or Blacks.

They'd check your ID, which was the combination of your clothes and the way you spoke, and then proceed to rummage through your pockets or baskets.

The stolen goods tenant farmers were often gratuitously suspected of possessing or trying to obtain? Woodlands well stocked with game made for great hunting parties as well as for devastated crops. Game, from rabbits to deer to boars or birds, belonged to the land owner to do with as he pleased.
The police were happy to ensure the safety of the land owners' game and not averse to feeling up some peasant women in the process.

Nobody told us when New York mayor What's-his-name and police chief Bratton made the city the poster child of 1990s stop and frisk?

That's because nobody asked and because it doesn't sound so great if you announce a revolutionary new policy with "hey, let's do this grand new thing which failed so miserably two centuries ago."

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