Not long after 9/11, I was on a business trip, a tough two-day out-and-back. Given the recent events, everyone was on edge, and airport security was still making it up as they went along.
So there I was, dressed in my businessman’s uniform of suit and tie, waiting at the first boarding gate on the trip home. To my irritation, a particularly humorless security guard (and that’s saying something) pulled me aside, gave me a thorough going-over with a metal detector, and took my overnight bag apart right down to my toothbrush. Oh, well, that’s life. I shrugged it off.
At the next airport, though, the same thing — singled out, frisked, searched. Puzzling, but still, I was tired and wasn’t looking for an argument.
Finally, into Cincinnati to catch the last puddle-jumper home. It had been a long, long day, and there was a long walk to the boarding area. And sure enough, halfway down an interminable hallway, I was pulled aside once again.
That was too much. I threw out my arms and snapped at the agent, a nice, middle-aged lady in a blazer and pumps, “This is the third time today. What is it about me?” The agent just smiled and waved me on. I stomped off, got on my bumpy little puddle-jumper, and was never so glad to get home as I was that evening.
Well, the point of that ill-humored anecdote is that I have some sympathy for the opponents of stop-and-frisk police tactics. You’ve probably read that New York City has been sued over stop and frisk, and a judge has ruled it unconstitutional on the grounds that it has a disparate effect on minorities.
From personal experience I know that it’s more than a little disturbing when you’re minding your own business and get stopped for no good reason. I never figured out why I was stopped, or why that nice lady in Cincy let me go rather than calling in the storm troopers.
You can see from my picture that I’m as white as they come, but a Cherokee great-grandmother gave me high cheekbones and a prominent nose, and back then I had a mustache and a bit of a tan. Did that make me look enough like an Arab to arouse suspicion?
Did my hillbilly accent convince the nice lady that I really just wanted to get home to Tennessee rather than fly that awful little cigar tube with wings into a building? I’ll never know.
Perhaps you noticed that I assume that I was profiled. Get stopped once, that’s a bureaucrat being politically correct. Get stopped three times, and something has attracted the attention of trained professionals. Of course I was profiled.
Something about my appearance said, “Take a closer look at this guy.” So they did. And if a voice straight from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry dispelled the concerns, well, that’s profiling, too. It only makes sense.
Police are trained to closely observe people and their surroundings, and act on their observations. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, it’s the essence of good police practice.
A group of unkempt young men milling around idly on a sidewalk in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood is — and you already know this, I don’t have to say it — trouble waiting to happen. That’s reason enough to check them out.
Skin color is beside the point, although it’s no surprise that lots of the stopping and frisking is of racial minorities, given that they commit, and are the victims of, a disproportionate amount of crime. That’s so obvious that only someone hopelessly biased against the police could think otherwise, yet it appears that the grievance mongers found just such a judge.
Another anecdote: From the mid-1980s to mid-1990s I occasionally traveled to New York to visit a customer in midtown Manhattan. I vividly remember once walking to a restaurant in a mixed residential and small business neighborhood. On the way, a couple of blocks off Park Avenue, we stepped over a passed-out drunk lying in a pool of his own urine. I was shocked. My companions didn’t even notice. So what, it was an everyday occurrence.
That’s how low New York had sunk. No surprise, it wasn’t long before Rudy Giuliani was elected to clean up the mess. Giuliani has often said that stop and frisk was a critical element in the turnaround that has made New York a much safer and better place.
Now a federal judge with a too refined sense of constitutional propriety and no common sense has commanded New York to return to the bad old days. Pardon my French, but that’s dumber than a rock.
Kenneth D. Gough of Elizabethton is president and general manager of Accurate Machine Products Corp. in Johnson City.