Viewpoint: Stop and Frisk Isn’t the Problem

If you really want to get rid of senseless violence, we need to stop the War on Drugs

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Stephanie Keith / Polaris

Kimani Gray's Funeral in Brooklyn, New Yok on March 23, 2013 nearly two weeks after he was shot and killed by the NYPD on a Stop and Frisk stop.

We’re at at again. The shooting death three weeks ago of 16-year old Kimani Gray in New York City has led to the usual street rallies decrying the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy. Hundreds attended his funeral this weekend. Yet the protests miss the forest for the trees. What we should be decrying is the War on Drugs.

The stop and frisk policies are indeed excessive, intruding upon almost every black male New Yorker between the ages of 15 and 18. But Gray’s story, as depressing as it is familiar, has larger implications. The police say Gray aimed a .38-caliber revolver at them. He was shot 7 times. His death was almost certainly grievously unwarranted.

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Yet it is hardly unreasonable to wonder what a 16-year-old was doing with that gun anyway, or why his community doesn’t seem to find it especially noteworthy that he was carrying one. We get so used to hearing about kids carrying firearms that we can forget how bizarre it is in the historical sense. One of the most striking things missing in ethnographies of poor black neighborhoods before the seventies is the prevalence of guns. Most people reading this have probably never even held one. But in Gray’s world, they are ordinary objects.

And what are they for?  Gangs. And gangs use guns not to shoot skeet, but to maintain turf.

And the turf is not just for hanging out. It is for selling drugs: gangs sell drugs. This drug selling is motivated by the simple fact that you can sell drugs on the street at a high markup, and you can do that because the drugs are illegal.

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This means that if drugs – yes, even hard drugs— were available legally and America got serious about prevention and rehabilitation programs, no one could make money selling them on the street. Never mind that drugs are cheaper under the War on Drugs than they were when it started – this “war” creates a lucrative black market industry that tempts too many black boys dealt a bad hand from seeking legal employment. It gives ghetto men an ever-standing option for making a living without staying in school. Without it, they would have to seek other options. Inner city life for black and Latino Americans would be transformed in a way that no amount of rallies will ever accomplish:

For example, no more unspoken practices such as NYPD cops asking teens to empty their pockets, upon which they can nab them for having small amounts of marijuana “in the open.” It’s a scummy practice by cops trying to fill their arrest quotas, and it’s even scummier that statehouse Republicans have refused to seriously address it. The War on Drugs brings out the worst in its enforcers and victims alike. But Ultimately, the cops are assigned to black and Latino neighborhoods because there is more crime – i.e. gang activity – there. With no War on Drugs, the officers would be assigned elsewhere.

Gray’s mother says Kimani wasn’t in a gang. But the gun was likely traceable to someone in a gang, and even if Gray wasn’t in a gang himself, he had posted photos of himself striking Bloods gang poses. And he was carrying a gun — he was walking the walk.

Life had been hard for him lately. In his shoes, plenty of us would have sampled the same path. But with no War on Drugs, that path would barely have existed.


"...if drugs – yes, even hard drugs— were available legally and America got serious about prevention and rehabilitation programs, no one could make money selling them on the street."

That is not true.  Some users would still be unable to get the drugs they want, because legalization of those drugs would still have some restrictions attached.  Those restrictions could be circumvented, for a price.  There would be willing sellers and buyers at that price.

Doesn't mean it shouldn't happen, but we have to account for it.


Black people in America are not citizens and consequently, have no rights. African Americans live under the illusion of inclusion. The real problem in America is, how do they remove the presence of Black people from the country?

oldhippy 1 Like

John McWhorter,

Excellent article, drug legalization something I tried to push back in the late 80's while I was a foreman of a Federal Grand Jury. Even then it was obvious that we were losing the war and to me it was simple economics that the government should provide and tax the drugs, like alcohol and tobacco. Drugs were extremely cheap when used medically and I felt that taking the profit out of the illegal trade would have decreased the crime level in America dramatically. Every one I talked to in law enforcement about it recoiled as though I were a writhing rattlesnake. Well over 90% of our cases were drug related and it appeared to me that our government was so involved they couldn't get out of it. We spend billions of dollars on incarcerating drug related criminal and are  rapidly becoming a police state on the back of drugs and 9-11.


I grew up in the South, and my father and I often went hunting (for quail) with black people. We used 16-ga. and 12-ga. shotguns; they used 410-shotguns. I was pretty young (12-13), so I never wondered why they used different gauges and calibers. In many parts of the South, black folks could not legally own firearms other than 410 shotguns and .22 rifles, as these smaller-sized firearms were deemed needed for the simple task of obtaining food. Anyway, decades later I learned of these laws (some written and some unwritten), and was mortified.

I think that the War on Drugs is BY FAR the biggest disaster to hit the black urban community since slavery. It should be dismantled ASAP. Unfortunately, there are well-entrenched bureaucracies (e.g., the police and the DEA) who greatly benefit from the lavish funds that descend upon such agencies.


 Before the drug war, drugs were legal and there was no drug related crime or violence. Drugs were ordinary commodities most people knew little about. If they had to go to a doctor they would just take what the doctor gave them without reading what was on the bottle, never realizing or caring that what was inside was cocaine or hash oil or opium tincture. Some jazz players smoked 'gage' and a few old Chinese men smoked opium while the westerners got drunk at the saloon. Then governments started prohibiting things and stirred up a hornets nest that's still swarming out of control today. The author is right to demand an end to the drug war. And ending the drug war means legalizing drugs and there's no harm in that. Drugs are ordinary.


This is truly thought-provoking. But I'm not clear on what McWhorter wants to do about drugs. Legalize everything? There doesn't seem to be any clear solution presented here. Maybe a jumping off point for thought at best.


"The police say Gray aimed a .38-caliber revolver at them. He was shot 7 times. His death was almost certainly grievously unwarranted.

Yet it is hardly unreasonable to wonder what a 16-year-old was doing with that gun anyway, or why his community doesn’t seem to find it especially noteworthy that he was carrying one."

Why is anyone's death unwarranted (according to the author) if they point a gun at police. If you do that, you are 100% sure of being shot to death. That is simply "suicide by cop."


“Stop and Frisk” is illegal behavior on the part of law enforcement and is a breach of civil rights for anyone stopped, regardless of their race.   The actions and abuse by the NYPD are filling the very definition of a “Police State” where citizens are under never ending scrutiny.  You can read much more about our Justice System running amuck and how they’ve violated civil liberties across the country at


I can't help but wonder why we can sell alcohol on every street corner nearly (with regulations of course), yet pot is illegal.  It seems contradictory to me to include pot in the list of banned drugs, while alcohol  is legal.  I think if we legalized it, and regulated it, maybe those resources spent to fight it could then be spent more wisely.    Like chasing down gang crimes and gun crimes and of course, the hard core drugs which ruin  so many lives.  I don't know about the hard core drugs.  They're another story.



For me, this is racist, stop and frisk black and latino, this article states that only the blacks and latinos are on the streets sellings drugs, so, there are no whites selling drugs??


Without the war on drugs cops would not focus on minority neighborhoods. The robberies and muggings committed to support drug habits would go away? What is this author smoking?


@Heteroric What are you drinking? With no war on drugs there would not be robberies and muggings to support drug habits. Drugs at low prices would be a societal problem, but no where near the problems the war on drugs is causing. The WOD only FUELS crime and addiction.


There is a tremendous irony at work here.

White NRA members see no problem with a 14 year old white boy gleefully brandishing a rifle nor with the contention that 'American citizens' - obviously the NRA translates that to WHITE citizens since the NRA is predominantly white - have the right to arm themselves as thoroughly as police officers, yet they bend themselves into apoplectic pretzels when a 16 year old black boy practices the very principles they incessantly preach.

Understand, I do not condone this boy's actions, the blatant demagoguery of the subsequent protests nor the gun cult that rules America, but if you do not recognize the glaring racial disparity between the application of 'stop and frisk' police actions and the incarceration of black males vs white males for non-violent drug offenses in America, then you are indeed hopelessly racist.



Uhh, the circumstances are very different. The '14 year old  white boy' would be brandishing the rifle legally at a shooting range and practicing with it, not illegally carrying it in his clothing on the streets of New York and pointing it at police officers. That 16 year old black boy is hardly 'practicing the very principles they preach'.

And yes, sadly, the NRA is majority white, but they do have black members. I'd like to see them branch out more, but that would require a good bit of manpower and outreach.

And yes, you are blind if you don't see the racial disparity, but if you think the incarceration disparity is due to whitey being 'let off the hook' you are naive. It's the combined effect of higher drug use(probably influenced by higher poverty rates and such) and/or getting caught with them(aided by more aggressive minority frisking actions).

Simple. More users + more dealers + more aggressive frisking policies = more incarcerations. Eliminate either one of those and the rates start dropping. Until the numbers of users and dealers drop significantly they will continue to justify their policies with the results. Take that from them and they don't have a leg to stand on.


Is it not illegal to have such a weapon as the boy had in NY?  I guess we need some more laws to keep them out of the hands of law abiding citizens who are not in a gang!


LET me say it very clear.

Who are the leaders of the Black Community.

Jessie Jackson

Al Sharpton

WHen they start preaching  get off drugs it migth have some success in Black communities but they are to busy making money off the backs of Blacks. The problem will not go away with the likes of Jackson Nor Sharpton. There are other blacks who need to pick up this  and help their own people. Herman Cain, Alan West, many and many need to speak up. But Washington recognizes Jackson and Sharpton funny huu...

MalcolmKyle 2 Like

The following facts are indisputable:

* Our heavily militarized Police force is effectively laying siege to black neighborhoods. This is not happening with the same force and zeal in predominantly white neighborhoods.

* Afro-Americans do not use drugs at a perceivable higher rate than white Americans.


* Afro-Americans are being stopped and searched at a far higher frequency than white Americans. 

* Afro-Americans represent just 12.2 % of the population but are 37% of those arrested for drug offenses. 

* Afro-Americans comprise 53% of drug convictions but are just 12.2% of the population. 

* Afro-Americans comprise 67 percent of all people imprisoned for drug offenses but are just 12.2% of the population. 

* One out of three young African American (ages 18 to 35) men are in prison or on some form of supervised release. 

* There are more African American men in prison than in college. That's a four times higher percentage of Black men in prison than South Africa at the height of apartheid.

In July 2011 The NAACP passed an "historic" resolution, calling for an end to drug prohibition. Very soon, many other civic organizations, the entire faith community and all persons of good conscience will join the many who are already demanding that this horrific assault on the African-American community be halted immediately. What about YOU?


You know if I am looking for bread, I go where it is.  I assume cops to the same.

Garzhad 1 Like


I'm for ending it. I've never used em, and never will, no matter their legal status. Their illegality does not curb their use. Drug use here has gone Up since the WoD started, actually.

And while the deliberate racial targeting and bullying of blacks by the police Is deplorable and wrong, let's not forget that, for just 12% of the population, nearly half of all murderers are black, with the majority of the rest attributed to hispanic and non-hispanic whites, which together makeup 80% of the population.

One must keep in mind, however, that most of those murderers are gang members, and hardly can be considered representative. Break the gangs and end the drug war(or simply take gang-related murders out of the equation), and you'll likely see that percentage drop like a rock, probably normalizing to be equivalent to overall population percentage.

Addressing the rampant issues of poverty and hopelessness which lead to and breed crime would also help, as the author said, folks tend to turn to crime to make end's meet when they feel there is no other alternative. 

"Ain't no rest for the wicked, money don't grow on trees...."

Piacevole 1 Like

@MalcolmKyle To a great extent, I agree that we should stop the "War on Drugs," which is, in fact, a war on people.  But how should the existing situation be handled?

Should we determine the usage of everyone who is currently addicted, and issue a prescription to have that level maintained with pharmaceutical drugs until.or unless the person wants to quit?  Because I'll tell you something: I don't see that methadone or suboxone programs really work out all that well in the case of heroin addiction.

When we repealed Prohibition, I think that was a good move, but the situation of alcoholism is still very much in play.  If we simply stop enforcing all the legislation on "illicit" drugs (bearing in mind that oxycodone is a "licit" drug, often illicitly obtained) what happens next?  If we have doctors issue prescriptions, and made the drugs non-coverable by any insurance program, users would be paying less, probably, to "fix."  And they'd be dealing with drugs of a known quality.  And, basically, the FDA would be in the drug business instead of "pushers."  Can we, in fact, eradicate the existing market in drugs?  Has having state lotteries eliminated "off-the-books" gambling?

Maybe we ought to find out which countries have the least problem with addictive drugs, and find out how they manage it.