Thursday, March 27, 2014
The Atlantic today has What Stop-and-Frisk Means to the Descendants of Slaves by Theodore R. Johnson, which begins:
Jehu Grant was a Rhode Island slave who escaped the bondage of his anglophile master to join the fight for American independence. He was in his eighth month of service in George Washington’s Continental Army when the military returned him to his owner. Years later, Grant obtained his freedom papers and, as an 80 year old indigent man who’d lost his eyesight, he applied for the military annuity authorized in the Pension Act of 1832. His appeal was denied because the War Department determined that a slave could not also be a soldier. Despite a commitment to America’s founding principles and a mortal fight for liberty, he was denied capital gain by the very nation in which he’d literally placed his blind trust.
Grant’s story is instructive: as a black man, I know America was not intended for me. This is not an indictment; it’s just reality. When the nation was forged from fruited plains and purple mountain majesties, it was crafted for a specific, privileged segment of the population. The founding fathers determined that the actual construction of the republic was a higher priority than ensuring that the rights it promised were available to everyone. Pragmatism ruled over idealism. Despite a national gospel that deified freedom and independence, the exclusion of black liberty was coded into the American DNA.
This is what Daniel Bergner ultimately details in his April Atlantic article, “Is Stop-and-Frisk Worth It?” The proactive policing program is ostensibly an honorable attempt to provide safe communities. But whether or not the program is effective (the rationale and statistics have so far been insubstantial), the discriminatory way it is carried out reflects the same pathologies that thwarted our first attempts at liberty. Stop-and-frisk isn’t racist on purpose. It was just born that way.