Yes, I’ve used this selection in the past, but this is a different version of “Police And Thieves.” This is the studio version that first appeared on their debut album, The Clash, released in the UK in 1977. It’s also on the U.S. version of The Clash, released in 1979. And here’s the live version I posted the last time, which comes from the film Rude Boy (1980).
(Although the film came out in 198o, this clip shows the pre-new-teeth Joe Strummer. So it’s still pretty early in the band’s career.)
In any event, I had to go back to the well for this Friday’s Clash selection after reading about the New York Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” policy. From yesterday’s New York Times:
Last year, police officers in New York City stopped and frisked people 685,724 times. Eighty-seven percent of those searches involved blacks or Latinos, many of them young men, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union.
The practice of stop-and-frisk has become increasingly controversial, but what is often absent from the debate are the voices of young people affected by such aggressive policing on a daily basis.
So, the Times made this video of Tyquan Brehon:
By his count, before his 18th birthday, he had been unjustifiably stopped by the police more than 60 times. On several occasions, merely because he asked why he had been stopped, he was handcuffed, placed in a cell and detained for hours before being released without charges. These experiences were scarring; Mr. Brehon did whatever he could to avoid the police, often feeling as if he were a prisoner in his home.
Watch the whole thing. It’s really unsettling.
If you want to look at it in a technical legal way, the Supreme Court considered the legality of “stop-and-frisk” searches many years ago – in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), to be precise – and concluded that while the police may be able to stop individuals on the street to question them generally, they cannot, for example, pat down the subject to search for weapons without a reasonable suspicion that the person might actually be a threat:
Our evaluation of the proper balance that has to be struck in this type of case leads us to conclude that there must be a narrowly drawn authority to permit a reasonable search for weapons for the protection of the police officer, where he has reason to believe that he is dealing with an armed and dangerous individual, regardless of whether he has probable cause to arrest the individual for a crime. The officer need not be absolutely certain that the individual is armed; the issue is whether a reasonably prudent man in the circumstances would be warranted in the belief that his safety or that of others was in danger. Cf. Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91 (1964); Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 174 -176 (1949); Stacey v. Emery, 97 U.S. 642, 645 (1878). And in determining whether the officer acted reasonably in such circumstances, due weight must be given, not to his inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or “hunch,” but to the specific reasonable inferences which he is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his experience. Cf. Brinegar v. United States supra.
392 U.S. at 22-23.
But the antiseptic language of Terry, although relevant to the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” policy, belies the real tragedy here. It’s bad enough that the police intimidate anyone who’s innocently walking down the street. I’ve had my own unpleasant encounters with local police, who think they can bully anyone who speaks his mind in public. But going out of their way to target people of color in New York City? That just reinforces the belief that the police really aren’t on the side of law abiding citizens, irrespective of race or ethnicity, but have it in for African Americans and Latinos.
I guess if you’re young and Black (or Latino) and you live in an inner city neighborhood plagued by crime, you have to worry about police and thieves alike.
But, hey. It’s a great song, right.