Hari Takes Kumar To White(ness) Castle: Why Kal Penn Is Wrong On Stop-and-Frisk

Hari takes Kumar to White(ness) Castle: Why Kal Penn is Wrong on Stop-and-Frisk

by hari stephen kumar, August 17, 2013 // @kineticnow

Dear Kumar (aka Kal Penn),

Dude, it’s time for us to talk, you and me.

Kumar to Kumar.

You see, as a brown man with a name like Kumar, I’ve gotten stopped many times. And asked about THAT movie of yours. You remember it, right? The one where you and Harold critique racism and mock how cops profile brown folks?

And so now I hear you’ve been tweeting about Stop-and-Frisk. And about how you think it’s a “good policy.” About how you think “the stats don’t lie” when it comes to “who, sadly, commits & are victims of the most crimes.”

And how, even after someone pointed out to you that other cities saw reduced crime rates without Stop-and-Frisk, you responded “If they added s&f it’d be even better.”

Well, KUMAR, for the sake of Kumars everywhere, I do believe it’s time we stop and frisk your brain.

I don’t think you realize how wrong you are about those stats, especially since they have convinced you to believe the many myths about Stop and Frisk. Bridget Todd, with whom you exchanged a few tweets about this issue, wrote an excellent open letter to you on Racialicious about why these myths are dangerous.

And furthermore, I don’t think you realize how Stop-and-Frisk actually benefits whiteness.

So, get up. We’re going to White(ness) Castle.

You know, Kumar, when you first said these things on Twitter, some thought your account had been hacked. After it was clear you were serious, and after many called you out on Twitter, you wrote a longer explanation on The Huffington Post because you felt it was “a mistake to casually engage in 140 characters” with the issue. So let’s pick up where you start your full clarification:

I tweeted something that alluded to a statistic about who commits crime and who are the victims of crime. I did a poor job being clear — the stat was from the City of New York, indicating that 97 percent of gun violence victims are black and brown (this was the main point). Ninety-six percent of suspects fall into the same category. I fall into the same category as a brown man who has had a gun held to his head twice, and who also gets stopped and frisked.

Oh man, where to start with you?

Well, first, you do get that just because 96% of shooting suspects are black/brown doesn’t mean that 96% of black/brown people are shooting suspects, right? Please tell me you get this.

I mean, by your logic, since 80% of violent crimes are committed by men, the best way to reduce violent crime is to simply lock away 80% of men, right? Further, since over 90% of mass shootings are committed by white men, how about we stop and frisk 90% of white men for guns?

Surely, if those of us in “communities of color” are expected to give up our 4th and 14th amendment rights in the name of “public safety,” then of course “white communities” would be just as willing to give up some of their 2nd amendment rights too, right? The NRA wouldn’t have a problem with suspending those rights for white men, would they? After all, the “stats don’t lie” about “who, sadly, commits & are the victims” of those crimes too, right?

But speaking of constitutional rights, here’s what that ‘activist judge’ Shira Scheindlin had to say about Stop-and-Frisk in her ruling: “Many police practices may be useful for fighting crime—preventive detention or coerced confessions, for example—but because they are unconstitutional they cannot be used, no matter how effective.” (2)

Second, did you consider the larger picture of those stats? That same article you pulled those stats from also had this info:

While the vast majority of shootings were committed by young black and Latino men, [criminal justice professor Andrew Karmen] said, the perpetrators represented a tiny fraction of minority youth in the city. … There were 515 murders and about 1,500 shootings in New York City in 2011. More than 600,000 New Yorkers were stopped and frisked in 2011. … Nearly 90 percent of those stopped were black and Latino, who make up 51 percent of the city’s population.

That alone should have given you pause.

Let’s say 96% of those 1500 shooting suspects in 2011 were black or Latino.

So the police stop 600,000 people, 90% of whom are black and Latino.

That’s 540,000 blacks and Latinos.

Do you really think 96% of them were shooting suspects?

In fact, Judge Scheindlin found that “nearly 90% of the people stopped are released without the officer finding any basis for a summons or arrest … There is no reason to believe that the nearly 90% of people who are stopped and then subject to no further action are criminals. As a result, there is no reason to believe that their racial distribution should resemble that of the local criminal population.” (51-52)

Thus, Judge Scheindlin says this about the policy: “The City and its highest officials believe that blacks and Hispanics should be stopped at the same rate as their proportion of the local criminal suspect population. But this reasoning is flawed because the stopped population is overwhelmingly innocent—not criminal. There is no basis for assuming that an innocent population shares the same characteristics as the criminal suspect population in the same area.” (7-8)

Look, Kumar, I know that in real life you are a smart guy named Kal Penn (and even in the movie you do surgery while trying to steal weed), so I know that you can figure all this out too.

But to step away from all those words and numbers, here’s something more visual. Check out this interactive map that overlays the locations where the most stops were conducted with the locations where guns were found:

(h/t: WNYC.org via @JessieNYC at RacismReview.com)

Seriously, look it: the green dots are where guns were found, but they are almost all located in areas that are shaded blue. Those are the areas with the fewest numbers of stops. In contrast, the areas that had the highest number of stops had very few guns found.

Okay, you might say, look, it doesn’t matter where the guns were found, it just matters that Stop-and-Frisk found guns. So how many stops resulted in guns being found?

Of all 4.4 million stops from 2004 to 2009, only 34,000 frisks yielded weapons of any kind, not just guns. That’s less than 0.8% of stops.

Meaning: 99.2% of stops found no weapons.

When it comes to actual guns, the focus of your own worry, Stop-and-Frisk found a gun for one in every thousand stops.

Think about that for a second.

One gun in every thousand stops.

If I were to tell you that I had this amazing policy to reduce gun crime, but I would need to stop a thousand people in order to find just one gun, seriously, wouldn’t you be asking me what I was smoking?

Third, did you even read the ending line of the article from which you got those stats? I mean, the article literally ends with this quote about those stats you cited: “This stuff gets used nefariously all the time.” And by ‘nefarious’ use the article meant: “feed false stereotypes that paint whole racial groups as being criminally inclined.”

You seem to recognize such nefarious uses, because you say you “feel terrible” but I don’t think you realize that the way you used those stats, even in more than 140 characters, continues to feed those false stereotypes. In fact, those are the same stereotypes that continue to condemn blackness in American cultural storylines about criminality, so that black men are automatically suspected of criminal activity in everyday life. And those storylines are what dominate police decisions on who they decide to stop.

Those storylines and stereotypes about black/brown criminality are also the foundation of gun rights laws like Stand Your Ground. Did you know that SYG laws actually are part of a broader legal paradigm known as the Castle Doctrine, which involves the right of a resident to use force in defending his/her home against an intruder?

The NRA loves the Castle Doctrine and lobbies aggressively for SYG laws. The NRA is also adamantly opposed to any gun regulation. When it comes to gun violence, their motto is: “the only thing stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

So have you ever wondered why the NRA isn’t actively promoting the 2nd amendment rights of young black males in urban neighborhoods to stand their ground with arms? Does the NRA not consider a young black male to be “a good guy” if he has a gun?

Have you ever wondered why the NRA isn’t rallying to support the 2nd amendment rights of Muslim-Americans to use guns for defending their mosques from white supremacist hate threats?

Guess what racial assumptions go into the NRA’s view of the Castle Doctrine?

Here’s how an NRA brochure from 2007 called “Freedom in Peril” promoted the use of guns to defend a home from an approaching gang:


And here’s another picture from the same brochure showing who the NRA thinks we need to defend our castle against:

Freedom in Peril image: Gangs

Put these two images together, and I think you’ll get quite a clear idea of just whose “freedoms” the NRA thinks are “in peril.”

So do you see, Kumar?

Do you see that your missing the point about Stop-and-Frisk is, in effect, a defense of the very White Castle of American racism?

Sincerely yours,

Kumar (aka hari stephen kumar)


UPDATE (8/18/2013): Later in the day on Saturday, August 17, Kal Penn tweeted a change in his position on Stop-and-Frisk, saying: “Sincere thx 2 all 4 educating me on S/F; I DO oppose it.” He provided a link to a joint statement by several South Asian leaders posted on Colorlines.com. While I applaud Kal Penn’s actions, I’m leaving this letter up as a response for those that might have felt like his initial position was in any way valid.