Opinion | Staff Editorials

Stop-and-think

Morningside Heights was scandalized to learn that Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker was accused of shoplifting and stopped-and-frisked by a Milano Market employee last Friday. Witnesses accused a Milano employee of racially profiling the celebrity. Milano’s owners later denied the accusation of profiling, but they have since fired the employee.

An illegal search involving an African-American celebrity at a shop adjacent to an Ivy League university—this episode is easily sensationalized. Yet, we should reflect upon one of the most troubling components: the stop-and-frisk tactic. While its use by the Milano employee against Whitaker was unquestionably illegal, stop-and-frisk is an institutional mainstay of the New York Police Department in its anti-crime efforts across New York City. This policy routinely allows police officers to stop individuals with only nominally reasonable suspicion and then question and search them. While public outcry has been strong, we have yet to see institutional reform.

As responsible citizens, we cannot allow a double standard to exist between the treatment of celebrities and the treatment of ordinary citizens being stopped-and-frisked for indiscriminate factors such as race, gender, or geographic location. The stop-and-frisk policy is just as offensive when it’s exercised on an ordinary New York City resident as when it’s executed on a celebrity. Both NYPD officers and Milano employees—the latter without the legal authority to engage in stop-and-frisk in the first place—have a responsibility to respect an individual’s personal space and personal integrity.

There are signs that progress is being made, with Bronx Judge Shira A. Scheindlin deeming the policy unconstitutional in January 2013. We should channel our indignation with the Milano employee toward public policy and work to accelerate stop-and-frisk reform in New York City. We hope to see both institutionalized and incidental racial profiling minimized, and to see police show a greater adherence to the Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Despite the media uproar from the Forest Whitaker story, many Columbia students appear unfazed. Earlier this semester, patrons flocked back to Absolute Bagels and M2M after the city’s health department closed them due to numerous health violations. Convenience, routine, and a lack of alternatives will inevitably keep Milano thriving post-controversy, just as they did for its neighbors on Broadway. However, health violations and incidents involving illegal and discriminatory search and seizures clearly are not the same. Recognizing the many complicated factors characterizing the scandal—including the consideration that the stop-and-frisk was performed by an individual employee and not condoned by Milano—we urge students to consider the greater ethical questions raised by the situation, in their capacities as both Milano patrons and responsible citizens.

To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com

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rick131 posted on

No, I will not boycott a store because they have security. No I will not boycott a store because they did not let a rich guy get a free pass out the door. Are we going to boycott all airlines because of their security and random searches?

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Anonymous posted on

Why isn't anybody talking about the fact that the fired employee was probably following the policy set by the owners and has now been terminated as a scapegoat? This behavior was not "security" but racism. The place was packed and if Whitaker had been white and gone in and turned around and left, the conclusion would have been that he didn't want to negotiate the crowd or wait in line and nothing would have occurred. Also, it's not "inevitable" that CU students and staff return to Milano. A boycott until Milano puts in place guidelines for its employees that outlaw this sort of behavior is a good idea.

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Daniela Lapidous posted on

I am tired of editorials urging students to "consider" certain things. If you're going to make a call for action, take a stand and make it an actual call for action - I agree with the commenter that a boycott calling for anti-racism and anti stop-and-frisk policies to be institutionalized at Milano (and other businesses) would likely be effective. This could have been the mistake of one employee, whether it was the one who frisked or the one who directed, but clear guidelines can prevent these situations from being put up to an individual's judgement call. The action (a boycott or otherwise) itself is not so important as the willingness to put our actual time and effort, rather than just our thoughts, on the line for our principles. I duly respect that Spectator cannot become a political activism group, but stepping into the waters of such a discussion under the label of an "editorial" (presumably representing Spec's leadership) already makes a political statement - just a weak one.

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Anonymous posted on

Ugh what is this post about, Spec?! Can your editorials actually stay on topic for a whole two paragraphs anymore? Despite the subtitle asking us to reconsider our popular hangouts, you don't actually mention any other store but Milano and immediately get distracted by talking about the NYPD. You sort of come back to make a point about Absolute, but then (correctly) point out how your own example is terrible. Did someone read this or just sort of pass out and wake up after having posted it?

So once again, it's another editorial that could literally be summarized to into a sentence. "You should think about all this stop and frisk stuff." And the worst part is, if you actually had done that it would have been more clear.

But forget about clarity, have some actual respect for your readers and make a point. As Daniela says in the comments, all the editorial section does anymore is ask people to "consider" things. If you're going to say nothing, don't say nothing in 500 words.

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