Last week, in advance of a march planned to protest NYC’s stop-and-frisk policy, we quoted Khalil Gibran Muhammad describing how the tactic casts all young men of color as potential criminals. You can see scenes from that march in this short video:
Just hours before the march, the body of Rodney King was discovered at the bottom of his LA swimming pool. King, whose videotaped 1991 beating at the hands of the LAPD led to days of uprising and heightened scrutiny of police brutality nationwide, was 47.
Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness, explained to Tavis Smiley last year that the beating of Rodney King “crashed in” on his college days, diverting him from what had then been a path toward a career in business. “From that point forward,” he told Smiley, “I was fundamentally shaken by the position of being a young Black man in America and really had a lot of unanswered questions about where I fit in the world and what the future held for me.”
Yesterday, Muhammad reflected on Rodney King’s legacy, and how policies like stop-and-frisk can be traced to a “crisis of legitimacy” that arose after the treatment of King and others came to light:
Looking back over the past two decades through the lens of King’s life – including the acquittal and mistrial of the four officers (two were later convicted of civil rights violations in federal court) and the 1992 LA uprising that followed – reveals that police intimidation and/or violence has become a normal rite of passage for millions of black people in America today. Since 2006, in New York City alone, roughly a half million black and Latino people every year are treated as would-be criminals through a perfectly legal policy of racial profiling known as stop, question and frisk. Required to prove their right to pass freely in the financial and cultural capital of the free world, those stopped are almost all innocent of any criminal offence.
The raw violence [of the King beating] did not match three decades of post-racial mythology, where the only racism supposedly left in America was affirmative action. King’s tape and others that followed, along with greater federal scrutiny of police agencies, compelled criminal justice officials and politicians to re-engineer or rig the system into a labyrinth of ostensibly race-neutral policies – such as stop, question, and frisk or stand your ground laws. It is now this system that legitimates the routine targeting of young black men for harassment or violence and that is now under attack as witnessed by yesterday's silent march in New York City.