As politicians and newspapers stop and frisk each other, that policy lives at many levels

August 19, 2013

I love fights between unlikely participants. You come to expect fights between NASCAR drivers (however trumped up), rap musicians and anyone who comes within 20 yards of Bill O’Reilly. But these fights are boring and predictable.

The real fun occurs when two unlikely combatants go at it, like two organic gardeners arguing over the proper internal temperature for compost.

And there’s a good one brewing between the cities of Washington and New York over the latter’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy.

I didn’t know, I thought Stop ’n Frisk was the name of a South Beach nightclub or something. But apparently stop and frisk is the name the New York City Police Department has for the policy of patting down people for no other reason than they look suspicious, shifty or just plain weird.

This policy could never work in downtown Hagerstown. There isn’t time.

And now it’s not going to work in the Big Apple as much, because the courts say that it’s a violation of some whiny clause in that dusty old Constitution of ours.

So the Washington Post leaped into the fray, acknowledging New York’s lower crime rate of late, but opining that it came at the cost of an undue burden on minorities, since 87 percent of those who are stopped and frisked are black or Latino. The newspaper later applauded the court ruling, saying stop and frisk was merely grist for the old racial-profiling mill.

That set off New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who pointed out to the Post (yes, he named names) that 90 percent of violent crime in the city is committed by blacks and Hispanics, not to mention that 90 percent of the victims are black or Hispanic. Then he wrote: “It is shameful that so many elected officials and editorial writers have been largely silent on these facts.”

Whoa. Forget Jeff Bezos, this is the way to revive newspapers — mix it up, like they did in Civil War days. Now the Post needs to come back and call Bloomberg a “toenail-eating, lizard-swallowing, snot-bathing son of a gallinipper.”

Game on. When two institutions best personified by bow ties and pocket protectors go at it, now that’s entertainment.

As for stop and frisk, I don’t know. This is one of those things that I would have been on my high horse about a couple of years ago, but today? No one else seems to care, so why should I?
From police cameras to corporate Internet snooping to the National Security Agency, our rights have been dripping away for a decade, but no one cares. All the government or business has to do is say that “We’re doing it for the children,” and we’ve all become so brain-dead that this mother of all nonsequiturs makes everything satisfactory.

But if we’re going to take away some people’s rights, I think we should take away everyone’s rights. It’s only fair. So if police see someone on Wall Street in a Brioni Vanquich II suit and diamond cufflinks, they can employ their “stop-and-audit” policy just to make sure there’s no white-collar hanky-panky going on.

That could be policy even the Washington Post could love. Right here on Capitol Hill, if you see someone wearing the blue chalk suit and red tie of a politician you can stop him under the “stop-and-give-an-IQ-test” provision.

Everybody’s got something to hide. Mark Twain said that he once sent a dozen of his friends a telegram saying, “Flee at once — all is discovered.”

They all left town immediately.

So if we’re going to stop one group for no other reason than we don’t like their looks, let’s stop them all. Don’t do it for me, do it for the children.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at

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