NYPD Stop & Frisk; Protected Ideology of the Elites

The Critical legal studies theory was an ideological movement stemming from the late 60’s movement of civil rights and anti-establishment (Pavlich, 2011, p.117). It viewed law as a political ideology which sustained itself by supporting interests of the group or class that created it. The legal system maintained the status quo which in turn depicted the enshrined hierarchy power relations and inequalities present in society. Law was virtually seen as a tool to oppress certain classes of people and maintain the elite in their positions within the social hierarchy. We can correlate such concepts to the NYPD stop and frisk program and witness such inequalities and social conflicts. A big component of classical critical legal studies rested on the concept of “alienation,” where certain individuals don’t have the ability of reach power and certain freedoms due to the powerful oppressing the less well off (Pavlich, 2011, p. 120). We can think of it as Caucasian supremacy, where interest of the elite are of more importance and the institutions and social structures that are in place embrace such power, which leads to social inequalities and racism. This applies to the stop and frisk program where minorities are the ones to be seemingly living under the economic alienation and thus are likely to be racially profiled. The program seems to come from the collection of beliefs and prejudices that embraces injustice with a mask of legitimacy. It is a tool to maintain the status quo and keep the powerful in their correct place within the social hierarchy.

The example with the sergeants who are in command depicted critical legal studies’ concept of how mainstream legal thought supports inequalities and racism. The commanders put pressure on their officers to do unreasonable things to meet quotas and even embraced a tone of violating rights. They normalized it. It stemmed from the top down (hierarchy). As a side effect, the pressure on officers lead to them to have no choice but to follow the status quo and lean towards oppressing certain classes of individuals and further the interest of the ruling class (privileged).

The only part of feminist jurisprudence and critical race theory that could correlate to the NYPD stop and frisk program is the agenda to have all people of gender, class and race equally valued (Pavlich, 2011, p. 125). The feminist agenda would be difficult to install within the NYPD program since the issues of class differences and race have developed overtime and established within the socio-capitalist societies. With pressure put on by an ideology (NYPD department), the police officers will develop their own perspective of who would looks suspicious depending on their own social upbringing as well. This in turn will most likely reflect mainstream society’s views and point the finger at those that are statistically likely to offend: minorities and the poor.

Consequently, although the law and the NYPD stop and frisk program is another tool masked to be proactive, it fails within itself as the ideology of the interest group that created it maintained the status quo of the elite. It separated trust and rapports from the citizens and police and lead to racial profiling. However, it does give us a view of how mainstream legal thought can depict social inequalities present within legal institutions and how certain established ideologies keep being protected.


Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.




Filed under Musing

3 responses to “NYPD Stop & Frisk; Protected Ideology of the Elites

  1. You write that “The program seems to come from the collection of beliefs and prejudices that embraces injustice with a mask of legitimacy. It is a tool to maintain the status quo and keep the powerful in their correct place within the social hierarchy.”

    This is an interesting observation!

    In a 2008 book chapter on public vigilance campaigns and participatory surveillance, my co-author and I came to similar conclusions based on our study of national security posters and tip lines. We proposed that:

    “The capacity of public vigilance campaigns to entrench a normative idea of citizenship is perhaps best illustrated in their more ambiguous forms of messaging. For example, OC Transpo’s (2005) first-generation “if you see something, say something” image depicts three penguins, one wearing swim trunks, and instructs citizens to call in if “something does not look right.” The vagueness of the image and message invites citizens to rely on common- sense understandings of what constitutes suspicious behaviour and to engage in processes of sorting and categorization based on deviations from the norm. Similarly, by asking British citizens “are you suspicious of your tenant or neighbour?” without providing in-depth information about what precisely constitutes suspicious activity, the MPS (2006d) is encouraging the public to trust their knowledge of what a “normal” citizen ought to look and act like. In the post-9/11 context, decisions about what constitutes suspicious abnormality are informed by particular narratives that circulate in the public sphere. The dominant themes link the presence of risk with ethnic, racial, and religious characteristics (Giroux 2005, 2006; Jackson 2005). Monahan (2006, 99) suggests that programs that enlist elements of the public to be on the lookout for suspicious behaviour not only fail to yield useful tips but also tend to “reproduce the general culture of racial profiling post-September 11.”” (Larsen and Piche 2008: 196).

    How do you think we should go about addressing the problem of institutionalized and discriminatory notions of ‘suspicion’?

    • sgahunia

      The world post 9/11 in America has developed the country into a police state, where fear dominates the social paradigm and it is used as a catalyst for defragmentation. Common bonds are diminished as the state agenda of surveillance and fear generates ideologies/policies that demolish civil liberties and punish those that oppose such elitist prejudices. As the police state culture evolves, it pushes through its foundational values into other sector of a society’s culture (e.g. Media/schools/spying on neighbors) (Giroux, 2004). Such fear moulds human behavior and values that arise are: distrust, patriarchy and intolerance (Giroux, 2004). Rather than democratic discussion and debate, action is welcomed. The combination of a militarization-neoliberism-corporate complex “produces policies that rely on force than dialogue and compassion [which] offers up modes of identification that undermine democratic values and tarnishes civil liberties”(Giroux,2004, 219). Our culture currently “plays a central role in producing narratives, beliefs and images that presents a powerful force over how people think of themselves and their relationship to others” (Giroux, 2004, 62). Our culture is currently “characterized by the rise of mega corporations and new technologies that are transforming the traditional spheres of the economy, industry, society and everyday life” (Giroux, 2004, 62). This form of neoliberalism is “diminishing public issues into privatized and individualistic concerns” (Giroux, 2004, 62). The best way to address institutionalized and discriminatory notions of suspicion is to make sure our public sphere and culture embraces the ability to sustain a political democratic paradigm, where individuals are not stripped of the capacity to think critically (Giroux, 2004). This capacity to develop critical thinking must be embraced within the pedagogy of our educational institutions, which plays a vital role early in our childhood in preparing us for socialization. Having curriculum that outlines democratic teachings, such as understanding the dynamics of resistance of the established current ideologies, helps produce citizens with the capacities to secure social change (Giroux, 60). It allows us to challenge disciplinary boundaries and critically engage and reform popular culture (Giroux, 61). Having such underlying commitment opens up the possibilities for understanding “racial justice, economic democracy and the just distribution of political power” (Giroux, 2004, 64). With more individuals being educated on teachings of critical studies, it assures us that policies such as one’s that produce racial profiling, can be countered with discussions of open critique and democracy and allows beliefs that challenge certain unjust policies to rise and comprise common ground solutions. Education must not just train children’s reason to produce adults being able to function independently in society, but must give children a social identity (Giroux, 2004). I believe that promoting public spheres that involve critical democratic pedagogy is the best way to address issues of discriminatory notions of suspicion or any policies that produces inequities for that matter. Public democratic spheres like universities are important to help people become critical citizens. It teaches people how to change policy and learn how to govern and not be governed (Giroux, Youtube). It teaches us to recognize inequities in society. We must view education as a moral and political practice instead of a technical skill (Giroux, Youtube). Now many people can argue that the pressures from living in a market driven society gives us no option but to just get a practical education (e.g. accounting) in order to get jobs and not get left behind (Giroux, Youtube). This argument is a major concern since we live in an age of insecurity, however, indulging somewhat in critical democratic curriculum can teach people how to think. It can teach accountants or anyone how to negotiate labor power and understand when they should take ethical positions within their jobs, instead of being robots (Giroux, youtube). Consequently, we must not let market fundamentalism take over the public spheres and educational institutions because it could lead to the erosion of challenging ideologies and unfair values. It could lead to quieting dissent and establishing authoritarian rules that promote racial, sexual and class inequities. American universities are starting to be more corporate as they are being underfunded by the government and have no choice but to go to corporations for grants and funds; which, in turn leads to the managerial component of universities to mimic corporate America and support the interests of the elite (Giroux, Youtube). Elite interests could then diminish curriculum that promotes critical thinking as it promotes a threat in producing opposition intellects. Public democratic spheres (like universities) must oppose such a takeover to avoid injustice policies like the Patriot Act from being passed again. Democratic pedagogy in schools is vital to challenge the status quo. It allows debate and injustice to be addressed in order to provide social awareness for inequality such as the “occupy wall street movement” showed. Having our culture embrace and sustain a political/democratic paradigm produces critical thinkers in society, who can move on to positions of power with a greater understanding on the oppression and injustices within societies and whom can help shape/challenge ideologies that they believe is unfair. The more critical thinkers, the better.



  2. Great to see some engagement with Giroux! He is one of my favourite cultural theorists. I highly recommend his book ‘Youth in a Suspect Society’.