By Robert Folsom | November 25, 2013
In August I commented on growing anti-authoritarianism, via examples of citizens taking action on behalf of their constitutional rights. In particular I noted developments related to the New York Police Department’s controversial “stop and frisk” policy, one of the earliest and most prominent battlegrounds in the push for and push back against authoritarianism.
This month saw the most important fight to date over stop and frisk, namely New York City’s Nov. 5 mayoral election.
Disputes over the policy have been in the headlines for months, and in turn it was a front and center issue in the campaign. Voters know the mayor has near-direct control over the city’s major law-enforcement policies, so candidates in this year’s election had to take a clear position on stop and frisk.
The push for and against stop and frisk even became a Federal case. In August a District Court judge had issued a sweeping ruling against the current policy, yet in October an appeals court took the rare step of imposing a temporary stay on the previous ruling.
Outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly aggressively defended the high number of stop and frisk actions; so did this year’s Republican candidate for mayor, and promised if elected to keep Kelly and the policy in place.
On election day, Democrat Bill de Blasio won with 73 percent of the vote. It was the biggest landslide by a nonincumbent in the city’s history. He had long been on the record by calling for “real reforms in stop-and-frisk,” and on “Mayor Bloomberg to immediately end the overuse and abuse of this tactic.”
But even the decisive outcome hasn’t silenced the controversy. Days after the election, Commissioner Kelly said de Blasio had pandered to voters — and, according to The Daily News, “Kelly thought Mayor-elect de Blasio was ‘full of sh*t.'”
All this said, it was clear in the early months of this year that the immense volume of stop and frisk was already falling, having peaked in 2011 at 684,330 (some 1875 actions per day). And news in recent days underscores the rapid pace of that decline: The most recent data from the NYPD show that July, August and September 2013 saw an 80% reduction in stop and frisk actions vs. the same period last year.
For now the mood of New Yorkers favors anti-authoritarianism. But the greater story is the striking negative-mood driven polarity surrounding this issue. When social mood turns downward at a larger degree of trend, far larger battles will follow.