Blog: Stop and Frisk Murders the SOUL

Stop and Frisk Murders the SOUL
Enduring psychic injury to both victim and bystander
By Annie Lee Jones, PhD
My eyes fill with tears whenever I think about witnessing one particular Stop Search Question and Frisk operation (SSQF).  I am haunted by what I saw, heard, and went through as I watched three burly plainclothes officers jump out of a low-riding Dodge charger and rush an African American adolescent boy passing behind me on the street corner where I catch the bus to my office every day.
Immobilized by fear, guilt, and shame, I observed these civil servants accost this boy.  Their attack had strong sexualized implications, given the extraordinary imbalance of power and utter physicality of three grown men pouncing on their lone target’s thin body, pulling and shoving, touching and fingering his belongings and his personage.  A laughing comment circled among them as they released him, making commonplace their use of authority in this manner.
The history of this country, and the way whiteness and its representatives have historically used the black male body, left me thankful that I managed to escape their attention, even as I stood there frozen.
I am trying to come to terms with my failure. This particular encounter with SSQF, somehow more intimate than others I have experienced, contained a paradox: as physically close to me as these police officers were, I was nevertheless negated, and not just by them: I had negated myself too.
I knew my body was black.  I knew there was no escape from either the truth of who I was or the truth of what was unfolding under my horrified and paralyzed gaze.  Neither could I be present for this awful moment nor could I get away, I could neither intervene nor look away. My authority as a psychoanalyst was stripped from me twice – once when I saw how these three government employees ignored my presence and once when I treated myself as though I were not there.
For one brief moment though, that negation lifted and something opened. While standing there, watching them do what they were doing to that boy, I realized that I was naming these three civil servants as perpetrators, who were manhandling him as though playing with themselves. 
And just as I became aware of my thoughts, I suddently saw one of them see me looking at them.  I saw him see me seeing him in all his humanity, and I saw him see how deeply his behavior had affected us, me and the boy, whom they soon released and sent on his way.
And then after this crack in time, he looked away, he broke our gaze as though our eyes had not touched. Whatever had opened shut down as my fear once again closed in.
Annie Lee Jones, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in private practice in Queens, New York, and a co-chair of the Committee on Ethnicity, Race, Culture, Class and Language (CERCCL) at the New York University Postdoctral Program in Pschotherapy and Psychoanalysis.