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How the 'stop and frisk' ruling helps end one occupation

Police (Illustrative photo: Shutterstock.com)

On Monday, a federal judge in New York ruled against the New York City Police Department’s “stop and frisk” practice (a policy not limited of course to New York). The judge found that the practice, as it has been applied, violates the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs.

Why does this matter here? Because the ruling chips away at systems that look too strong, too entrenched ever to be moved.

The situation of regular people with little power fighting a huge system that holds all the cards can creates immediate associations.  In recent years, prominent African-Americans have sometimes asked me how they can contribute to the Palestinian quest to end the occupation and live in freedom, from the experience of the American civil rights struggle.

It moves me when people who have fought a bloody and protracted struggle against an entire system devised to violate their human and civil rights see kinship and parallels with others fighting similar injustices. Decades later, these individuals look back and reach out their hands out to those still living under an intolerable regime built to constrain them.

Palestinians too have begun drawing on the amazing achievements of the American civil rights movement. The Freedom Rides held in 2011, the organization of popular resistance activities and unarmed demonstrations held every week for years against the route of the separation wall, are examples of techniques being borrowed and adapted.

I can also find comparisons from where I stand: in both societies, members of the dominant group who advocate for the rights of the “other” (the oppressed), face alienation and bitter hostility from the mainstream. Israeli Jews or American whites live in relative privilege, and most of them (at some point in history) either openly justify the system, or else quietly perpetuate the status quo. Both types often despise and even persecute members of their own group who fight for the “other.”

So victims on both sides of the struggle against oppression recognize the comparison. Activists agitating to change their own societies recognize that they face similar dynamics.

As of the ruling Monday, there’s another actor in the American racial divide that I wish would give some inspiration to our local conflict: the structures of injustice themselves.

In her book The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander painstakingly details how the formal end of Southern segregation laws in the mid-1960s did not translate into equality before the law. America’s systems of law enforcement, justice, incarceration, and legislation pertaining to ex-convicts stacked all decks against African-Americans and Hispanics – particularly young males. People are too often branded as criminals by cops just for being black, and put through the awful experience of being randomly stopped and physically investigated in humiliating incidents that no innocent person should suffer. They speak of the crime of “DWB” – driving (or even running) while black, which is enough to earn a shakedown. Henry Louis Gates was arrested for entering his own home. How much anger accrues based on a lifetime of fear and tension, just for being you?

The New York City Police department touted the “stop and frisk” policy as a silver bullet against crime. But its rampant use – millions upon millions of stops of an untold number of innocent people who would never be charged because there was simply no crime to be discovered – caused so much havoc among African-American and Hispanic communities that it came to be described as none other than (you guessed it) a military occupation. Those who were arrested were far more likely to be apprehended for petty crimes and then funneled through a criminal-production factory for the rest of their lives, than for example, someone like me.

Obviously, targeted communities suffer. But, as I have argued with relation to Israel and the occupation – all of society suffers from a warped application of justice which does not end at lines drawn between black, brown and white, nor at the Green Line.

The court ruling against stop and frisk differs from, say, a demonstration by social activists. Here, a member of America’s judicial system  determined that something within the governing system – the laws and their enforcement that are supposed to protect human beings – was rotten. Stop and frisk is just one link in a long chain of injustice, but condemning the de facto damage it has done can open the door to critique of other aspects. Civil society has been saying these things for years – now those with the power to change are listening.

The ruling therefore is a statement that those who hold the power, the gatekeepers, producers and interpreters of the laws, can point out and try to change failed policies on behalf of those harmed by it. Indeed, it is the obligation of the judiciary to do this when a practice violates the country’s core principles.

But it is hard to apply that lesson when Israel refuses to enshrine its core principles in a cohesive written constitution. And there’s a double protection for the unjust system of the real military occupation here: even if Israel had a constitution, it conveniently wouldn’t apply to non-citizens in territories Israel controls but has not placed under Israeli civil law.

The stop and frisk opinion is also relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because it addresses one of the most sensitive issues in Israeli life: security versus the inalienable rights of human beings. New Yorkers, including the judge, are no strangers to security fears. We know what it was like to avoid eye contact, to walk the streets in fear, and to be victims of violent crimes – personally. The chances of New Yorkers falling victim to crime in those bad years, were higher than being a terror victim in Israel in its peak years (yes, I did some unofficial calculations). But human rights and democratic principles come first – because they are a deeper form of security for any human society.

And I would be saying that even if the judge wasn’t my mother.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Matan

      so what is there exactly to learn? Israel has no constitution and no independent judiciary upholding privacy rights, so not that; and then there’s the vague issue of security, which muddles crime (born of poverty) and terrorism (born of colonial subjugation).

      So there’s really nothing to be learned. A non-starter. Even though the judge is your mother.

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      I hope you tell these prominent African-Americans that they can help the Palestinians by confronting their elected representatives, especially if these happen to belong to the Congressional Black Caucus.

      Of all the shameful sides of the US Congress, one of the worst is the black representatives supporting a system of Jim Crow in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Since this piece conforms quite well with my own biases, I think it is really good. Nice shock ending about the judge being your mom.

      There is fair chance this ruling will survive in the US Supreme Court. Scalia’s literalism has lead him to limit searches w/o warrant, against his fellow bench conservatives. So there might be a 5-4 on this one even if Kennedy doesn’t go along, and I think he might as well, although he seems to be conservatizing lately. So your mom may change history. No wonder you are yelling at the wind with such a family.

      As I keep saying to no possible effect, you do have a written meta-constitution in your Declaration of Independence, which specifies the forms of rights protection minimally needed in any Israeli constitution. But you need courageous Justices to get there, and I think post Aharon Barak these are harder to find. (Worse, Barak now says that the Knesset could remove judicial review, although he would be opposed to that; he has moved to Knesset supremacy and has conflated the Constituent Assembly with the Knesset; it is absurd to say a Constitutional Assembly is also the legislature it is supposed to check.) And the High Court needs to take control of Israeli law before it can face the military occupation. So augmenting constitutional discourse I think can ultimately effect the contours of occupation.

      Keep up family integrity even when faced with apparent futility.

      Reply to Comment
    4. rsgengland

      The stop and frisk laws in New York were accompanied by a drop in crime in the areas in which they occurred.
      As they occurred in many minority neighborhoods, crime in those areas dropped, improving the safety of the residents there.
      I suppose the leftist/progressives like crime to exist in minority areas, so that they can have a ’cause’ to fight for, and can point fingers at their favorite bogymen.
      Damn the safety of the residents though.
      Comparisons between the American Civil Rights Movement an the Palestinians are meaningless.
      Black Americans had a dream; they wanted equality.
      Palestinians have a dream; “THE DESTRUCTION OF ISRAEL”.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Peter Hindrup

      Israel has, and has had prior to 1948 an on going pogrom against the Palestinians. Initially aided and abetted by the British, who were supposed to be administrating Palestine under a UN mandate. In their amoral way the Brits promised both the Jews and Palestinians the control OD Mandate Palestine. They were currying favour with the Jews in order to get them to assist in fighting the Ottoman Turks.
      Note that they had no rights, no authority to ‘Give’ the land to anybody.
      The 1947 proposal was that the Palestinians who owned 95 percent of the land and were the indigenous people would get 45 percent of the land, and Jerusalem was to be administered by an international authority.
      This had to be put to referendum, to be ratified. It never had a hope, and the Israelis certainly didn’t want a bar of it.
      The Jews fought and defeated the combined might of the Arab world . . . And the sun rose in the west that morning!
      The Palestinians had been disarmed and their leaders shot by the Brits., while the Jews had been trained and armed those same Brits. Either Syria or Egypt had an organised, armed military, and they were bought off by the Yanks.
      Israel survives only because of US support, financial and military.

      “Let us approach them [the Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories] and say that we have no solution, that they shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wants to can leave — and we will see where this process leads. In five years we may have 200,000 less people – and that is a matter of enormous importance.” Moshe Dayan: September 1967.
      A quote from Dayan speaking to the Israeli cabinet, suggesting how they should urge Gaza strip refugees to move to Jordan.

      The harassment continues until this day.

      ” Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal Al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”
      Moshe Dayan 4 April 1969.

      Reply to Comment
    6. rsgengland

      Firstly the Palestinians did not own 95% of the land.
      Most of the land was State Owned, and much of the rest belonged to absentee landlords who were quite happy to legitimately sell the land they owned to whoever.
      Large portions of the land were vacant and uncultivated due to that virulent killer; MALARIA
      An American Jew and Zionist began the successful eradication of MALARIA in the early 1920s’, allowing Jews to purchase and cultivate previously unusable land.
      SARID!!!!!
      A beautiful kibbutz.
      It was NOT built over an Arab village.
      There was no development in the area where the Arab village was.
      ITS REMAINS WERE STILL THERE a few years ago.
      Sarid was built on the malarial swamp below the village.
      The Arab village was built on the hill, few hundred feet above the kibbutz.
      The old kibbutz buildings were surrounded by trees that were planted to give the residents cover from the continuous shooting that used to come from the village.
      The land the kibbutz was built on was purchased, at an inflated price, from absentee owners who thought they were selling a useless asset.
      And this process was repeated in many areas of the YISHUV many times.
      MALARIA influenced and affected the lives of all the inhabitants of the area.
      High infant mortality rates.
      Disease.
      Early deaths for many people.
      Vast tracks of uncultivated land.
      Low investment in the area.
      Don’t read to much Pappe. He is to subjective in his own words.
      Study some History though.
      You may end up better informed.

      Reply to Comment
      • Shmuel

        Peter Hindrup: “… the Palestinians who owned 95 percent of the land …”

        Rsgengl: “Firstly the Palestinians did not own 95% of the land.”

        You are absolutely right Rsgengl. It is outrageous how these so called “progressives” pull out such claims out of their back sides. The sad thing is that in time, they actually come to believe their own lies …

        Reply to Comment
        • Shmuel

          The claim that Palestinians owned 95% of the land is plain laughable and is demonstrably false. Anyone who doubts it just needs to look at the following fact:

          “The Negev covers more than half of Israel, over some 13,000 km² (4,700 sq mi) or at least 55% of the country’s land area.”

          http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negev

          Now, who is going to be brave enough to claim that the Negev desert was owned by “Palestinians”? Clearly the Negev was crown (government) land. And since there never was a sovereign country known as Palestine, the governments were first the Byzantines, then the Ottomans and subsequently the Brits.

          By the way, I put the word
          “Palestinians” in quotation marks because both Jews and Arabs were known as Palestinians before 1948. In fact, all the Jews of Palestine chose to call themselves as Palestinians before 1948, while the Arab population of Palestine described themselves as Arabs.

          Reply to Comment

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