Annette John-Hall: Philly belatedly opts to monitor stop-and-frisk policy

Posted: June 24, 2011

You just knew it would come to this.

This week, Mayor Nutter signed an executive order for monitoring of how Philadelphia police officers conduct stop-and-frisk procedures.

The mayor should have known when he ratcheted up the controversial tactic in 2008 - as a way to get guns off the street - that it would come back to bite him in the you-know-what.

I mean, how can you arbitrarily subject citizens to blatant guerrilla policing without implementing a single check or balance to ensure that nobody's rights are violated?

A civil rights suit filed on behalf of eight plaintiffs by the American Civil Liberties Union forced his hand.

The plaintiffs were a diverse group: a lawyer and an Ivy League-educated researcher; a city truck driver and a pharmaceutical employee; a state representative and a carpenter; and a couple of guys from around the way.

They ranged in age from 20 to 65.

Apparently, as black and Latino males, they all looked the same in the eyes of the law.

In every instance, they were stopped, frisked, showered with f-bombs, and, in some cases, detained, for no reason other than that they happened to be in high-crime neighborhoods.

As if their simple existence made them targets of suspicion.

Hard to imagine random white businessmen getting rounded up, frisked, and ordered to open their bank accounts because a bunch of Wall Street brokers who looked like them were complicit in ripping off the country.

Monitoring arrests

"It's a big day for African American and Latino males in this city," Mahari Bailey replied when I asked his reaction to the city's agreeing to monitor stop-and-frisk. "The revisions aren't going to fix the policies, but at least now we're in a position where we can monitor and adjust."

Bailey, 28, a Georgetown-educated lawyer, might actually be able to drive his Range Rover with his wife and two young daughters through his Wynnefield neighborhood without fear of search by Philadelphia's finest.

Unbelievably, Bailey was subjected to humiliating stop-and-frisks four times over a two-year period. Each time, he was released and no criminal charges were filed.

That's the thing, says civil rights attorney David Rudovsky, whose firm worked on the case. "We've had many complaints from people who were stopped without any cause at all."

He added that a four-year analysis of the cases in which there was no discernible cause for a stop revealed that more blacks were stopped than whites, "which means they're using a different standard."

As in, dare I say - again - racial profiling.

At least now, as part of Nutter's executive order, there will be a database established so that all stop-and-frisk information can be analyzed.

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey has also agreed to start quarterly reviews in each level of the department. Plus, there will be an independent monitor, additional training of officers, and oversight by the court system.

You would have thought there was nothing more persuasive than personal experience to convince Nutter that settling was the right thing to do. Well, that and a lawsuit.

Growing up in West Philly, Nutter says, he got the same directive from his father that most black parents give to their sons should they be stopped by the police: Answer all questions with "sir." Place your hands where officers can see them. No sudden movements.

The mayor admitted he was subjected to some frightening stops by police as a teen, and was even pulled over when he was a councilman.

"I have a good sense of what people experience on the street," the mayor said.

"That's interesting," Bailey said when told of the mayor's comments. "I can appreciate how he felt."

I bet he can.


Contact columnist Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986 or Ajohnhall@phillynews.com

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