New York’s Stop And Frisk Ethics Train Wreck

Free speech, Brown University style.

Free speech, Brown University style.

On the CBS Tom Selleck drama “Blue Bloods,” fictional New York police commissioner Ryan (Selleck) must deal with a court-mandated monitor to prevent police abuse of the city’s stop-and-frisk tactics. The show might as well just sketch out its season following parallel developments in the real stop-and-frisk drama in the city, which has already taken some strange twists and turns and is bound to take others. It is now officially an Ethics Train Wreck, involving questionable ethical conduct by police, the city government, a former mayor, Fox News, a judge, college students, and an Ivy League college:

  • On Fox News this morning, Rudy Giuliani mocked the August court ruling curtailing aggressive stop-and-frisks on the grounds that they amounted to unconstitutional searches and racial profiling. In the police practice,  approved by the U.S. Supreme Court within limits, an officer can stop and question a citizen based on “reasonable suspicion” of possible criminal activity. Sometimes this translates into: “if you are black or Hispanic in this neighborhood, you’re suspicious.” Then, if something about the interview prompts the police to suspect the individual under suspicion is carrying a weapon, for example, the cop can search him. The former mayor emphasized that the stops prevented crime, which has never been denied.  Studies suggest that without the aggressive stops, murders in New York could increase by as much as 200 deaths. “Are you insane?” asked Rudy, suggesting that anything that prevents more murders is a no-brainer. Well, yes, if you rule out all consideration of ethics or civil rights. I’m pretty certain we could cut the number of murders to the bone with the instigation of a police state, where everyone needs to show their papers on the street and if you venture outside, you get frisked. The Fox morning dolts naturally nodded and cheered Rudy’s casual endorsement of the ends justify the means without asking any tough questions.
  • From the other side of the ideological divide, liberal students at Brown invaded a campus speech about the stop-and-frisk issue by the real New York City police chief, played by Ray Kelly, and in the time honored, arrogant manner of college ideological thugs since the Sixties, shouted him down, disrupted the speech, and forced its cancellation. The right of free speech does not include infringing the free speech of others, nor do your objections to what I choose to listen to (or read) in the course of my education justify you in stopping me from reading or hearing it.Most of these student jerks—for this is jerkish conduct, however noble they may think it is— were just shouting bumper sticker slogans: I doubt that they could have debated the nuances of the court decision, which means that listening to Kelly might have strengthened their case. But when you have fervor and the belief that only you have a right to an opinion because your side has been granted the One True Truth, who needs a colloquy? Or facts? It’s so easy to win an argument when you don’t let the opposition argue. This conduct was inexcusable 60 years ago, and it’s just as unethical today.
  • The President of Brown apologized to Kelly. That and 50 cents, my father used to say, will get him a ride on the subway. Words are cheap, and a school that believed in the principles it espouses on its website would actually do something. Great words there too, though: “Brown’s emphasis on free inquiry attracts students and faculty who value creativity and innovation. Explore Brown, and you will see evidence of this at every turn…” Well, maybe not every turn. The students involved should have been disciplined. Do they teach integrity at Brown?
  • And the train wreck rolls on. Yesterday a federal court suspended the ruling stopping the stops, citing the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, for unethical conduct in her handling of the case. The judicial panel she “ran afoul” of the judiciary’s code of ethics by compromising the “appearance of impartiality surrounding this litigation.” It criticized how she had steered the lawsuit to her courtroom when it was filed nearly six years ago, was outspoken in her criticism of the policy, and even suggested the lawsuit that led to her ruling. This would be an abuse of power, no more justifiable in ending a bad policy practice than the practice itself was to limit crime.

This could be quite a season on “Blue Bloods.”


Sources: New York Times 1, 2, 3, The Daily Beast; Brown,

Graphic: Providence Journal

18 thoughts on “New York’s Stop And Frisk Ethics Train Wreck

  1. As far as the college jerks shouting down a speaker, I’m still affiliated with a college and have closer contact with that sort of person than I like. The horrifying thing about it is, if you tell them that shouting down a speaker is censorious jerkish conduct, they think YOU are shutting down THEIR right to free speech- many college studenst have absorbed the middle-school student concept of “I can say what I want, it’s a free country” and assume that the right to scream until someone stops saying words you don’t like is part of the first amendment.

    • At A&M, back in the Spring of 2003, I was in a military training unit on campus that focused extra attention on the leadership and discipline past ordinary ROTC courses and has been a the oldest student organization in Texas (since before 1900). Every evening after our training (which included *gasp* rifles) we would run in formation to the center of campus and have our evening formation before running to the dining facility for dinner. This evening routine was done twice weekly…in the exact same spot…for a century.

      Well, one evening in protest of the Iraq War, and even some protest of the Afghanistan War, an adorable gaggle of aging hippies, professors who matriculated at various university campuses in the 60’s and also a younger generation that wanted to protest had gathered at the exact same spot of our evening formation. In a little circle they were holding a quiet vigil (they may have been praying meditating). We thought nothing of it as we ran up to our spot, came to a halt, executed formation commands, gathered around the commander and listened as he discussed the training with us and expectations for the next training. Then reformed, faced forward again, began marching, and ran to dinner.

      The next day, the campus newspaper (arguably the one component of Texas A&M where liberals had pretty solid sway), front page news to discuss A&M Military organization arriving to intimidate peaceful protest.

      in the article some of the protesters claimed that we had shouted slurs at them and aimed our rifles at them.

      Yeah…. that desperate to pretend like they were repressed so they could claim a level of martyrdom and feel ranked amongst their heroes of the 60’s. What a joke.

      Wait, but guess what? We were suspended pending an investigation. Ultimately, we were compelled from then on to check in advance if there were any groups of people holding vigils at the site prior to our arrival (which we’d done twice weekly…on the same evenings of the week…in the exact same spot…for over 100 years).

      • Oh, I forgot to add that the investigation (which included the observations of bystanders) cleared our organization of any wrongdoing and ultimately attributed the problem to confusion arising from misunderstanding. Yes, the group was that deluded and close-minded (and apparently negligently unobservant) to not know that A&M has a strong military presence that is always practicing on various parts of campus.

          • The organization in question was a sub-component of the Corps of Cadets, it wasn’t the entire corps however.

            The Corps of Cadets is the overarching military organization on campus. About 2000 strong, composed of students who are contracted with the military as well as students who just want to be part of the organization. When I was there is was broken down into about 30 “Companies” in appropriate hierarchy.

            Alongside that internal formal organization, there were “extra” organizations that you could be part of for additional experiences, such as the mounted cavalry troop, a ‘ranger’ company, a ‘seal’ platoon, a historical society, an academic society.

            The organization in question in my post was one of those additional units composed of cadets from across the Corps of Cadets.

      • A cynical mind might suggest they knew full well you’d be there, and no matter what excuses you could give it wouldn’t play well in the press next to their precious bruised feelings.

        Besides, if you can manufacture feelings of repression it’s a win all ’round: You get to feel like the heroic underdog, undoubtedly the good guy in the face of angry thugs, AND it doesn’t matter when you accomplish precisely dick, because your methods totally would have worked if the man wasn’t holding you down, man.

        • I don’t doubt that they were there out of sincerity, but that the episode was blown out of proportion by a few of the hyper-nuts and some self-important people that wanted attention.

      • in the article some of the protesters claimed that we had shouted slurs at them and aimed our rifles at them.

  2. The students involved should have been disciplined. Do they teach integrity at Brown?

    Those students should have been arrested and prosecuted- after getting a good dose of tear gas and baton blows.

    • The answer to people being jackasses isn’t empowering the police to beat them. They have quite enough of that power already, thanks.

        • Not knowing all the details I’m not going to say whether it was appropriate to call the police or whether in-house security could have handled it, but I always object to the idea the the cops should come beat and gas people.

  3. The stop and frisk controversy illustrates fundamental problems with gun control and the drug war. I oppose those things because its apparent that you have drug/gun control OR you have civil liberties. I do believe that “stop and frisk” is unconstitutional and I do not support it, but so were the laws that necessitated it. If you want drugs and guns off the street you HAVE to surrender your privacy and your freedom. Otherwise, the laws are a complete joke. There is no free lunch on anything, including this.

    • Nice summary. And agreed.

      Even if the likelihoods are there for a ‘successful’ stop and frisk, it is based on a premise the government ought to immediately distrust the citizens.

  4. Oh Jack, sometimes “the ends do justify the means.” The most horrific example of this was Truman’s decision to approve the dropping of “the bomb” on Hiroshima. It was estimated that MacArthur’s plan of invading the homelands of Japan in a study done for Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s staff by William Shockley estimated that conquering Japan would cost 1.7–4 million American casualties, including 400,000–800,000 fatalities, and five to ten million Japanese fatalities. Perhaps the second bomb was not required and was a tragic, unnecessary mistake.

    • I never said they don’t. They always justify the means when the objective is good and the means are reasonable. That’s not what “the ends justify the means” means: the phrase signifies that it is a fallacy, runaway utilitarianism, to suggest that intrinsically unethical means can be justified if the goal is important enough.

      The atom bomb example, the “torturing the madman as the last resort to find the evil device that destroys LA” example and other are in the Ethics Incompleteness theorem, which holds that no rule of ethics is perfect, but we mustn’t let them be destroyed by the inevitable anomalies and extreme situations.

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