Should Profiling Be a Part of Public Safety?

Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic takes on Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who argues that crime rates among young black men justify practices like "stop and frisk."

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A demonstration against New York City's "stop and frisk" law (Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Although the New York City Police Department policy of "stop and frisk" disproportionately affects black men, in an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Richard Cohen argues in favor of such practices because they protect the general public. Cohen says that since most shooting suspects in New York City are black men -- 78 percent -- they should be stopped and frisked more often.

In a piece for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates says that such a stance effectively "annihilates" the black individual:

... we should take a moment to appreciate the import of Cohen's words. They hold that neither I, nor my twelve year old son, nor any of my nephews, nor any of my male family members deserve to be judged as individuals by the state. Instead we must be seen as members of a class more inclined to criminality. It does not matter that the vast, vast majority of black men commit no violent crime at all. Cohen argues that that majority should unduly bear the burden of police invasion, because of a minority who happens to live among us.

Richard Cohen concedes that this is a violation, but it is one he believes black people, for the good of their country, must learn to live with. Effectively he is arguing for a kind of racist public safety tax. The tax may, or may not, end with a frisking. More contact with the police, and people who want to be police, necessarily means more deadly tragedy. Thus Cohen is not simply calling for my son and I to bear the brunt of "violation," he is calling for us to run a higher risk of death and serious injury at the hands of the state. Effectively he is calling for Sean Bell's fianceé, Trayvon Martin's parents, Amadou Diallo's mother, Prince Jones' daughter, the relatives of Kathryn Johnston to accept the deaths of their love ones as the price of doing business in America.

Read more at The Atlantic.

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