Social Mood Conference | Socionomics Foundation

By Robert Folsom | May 8, 2012

The push for and push back against authoritarianism is a struggle which often plays out on a very public stage. To wit, one of the most visible episodes of the drama is unfolding on one of the biggest stages of all: The streets of New York City.

Known as “Stop and Frisk,” the program has swept up some four million New Yorkers. Supporters point to benefits like the recovery of 8,000 weapons (including 800 handguns) in 2011 alone, and a decade of dramatic reductions in virtually all categories of major crimes — most conspicuously a 51% drop in the number of murders (2001-2011 vs. the previous decade).

Opponents point out that 88% of stops uncover no wrongdoing, and those which do produce an arrest or summons overwhelmingly involve minor amounts of marijuana (50,684 in 2011). Detractors also note that some 90% of stops involve black or Latino New Yorkers.

Mind you, the numbers themselves are not in dispute; the NYPD makes the data publicly available. At issue is the policy, especially its dramatic expansion: from 97,296 stop and frisk actions in 2002, that number saw a 600% increase through 2011, when nearly 700,000 citizens were stopped and frisked.

And the controversy is ratcheting up. The past year has seen increased news coverage, numerous op-ed pieces, attempts at legislative redress, advertising campaigns, street protests, and legal action. An essay in the May issue of The Atlantic magazine describes a recent class-action lawsuit brought against the NYPD because of “Operation Clean Halls,” the precursor to stop & frisk that targets city-owned public housing. The lawsuit alleges that

“… officers have used Clean Halls to make baseless stops and trespassing arrests in primarily black and Latino neighborhoods, cuffing residents in their own hallways as they stepped out to buy a bottle of ketchup, or while they waited outside a girlfriend or sister’s building.”

Yet what really got my attention about the article was its subheadline, because it asked a vitally important question that the article itself failed to answer:

“Since 1991, the Clean Halls program has allowed the NYPD to arrest apartment dwellers with little or no cause. Why … are residents only now fighting back?” [emphasis added]

If it’s important to ask the question, then the answer is even more important. Here’s a preview of that answer, taken from the April 2010 Socionomist:

“Authoritarianism begins with a negative social mood trend, which in turn spawns a desire among some to submit to authority and among others to coerce their fellows to submit. At the same time, still others, caught up in the same emotional climate, battle against authoritarianism. We forecast that a continuing long-term trend toward negative social mood will produce increasingly authoritarian — and anti-authoritarian — impulses…”

There’s also plenty more to say about how and why The NYPD has fallen from the high public favor it once enjoyed. It relates to a brand of authoritarianism that’s become increasing visible well beyond New York City (hint: Remember the movie Minority report?).

In the meantime, follow this link to read the landmark Authoritarianism article from the April 2010 Socionomist, absolutely free.

Andrea Dibben contributed research.