Stop, Breaking the Beauty Bias of The Short with the Long Arc of Justice, Bent: A Hypothetical Interview in Four Undergraduate Questions put forth in a Sociology Course on Juvenile Delinquency, its Causes, and its Controls

This was written for SOC-362: Juvenile Delinquency, Washington State University, as facilitated by Dr. Joseph Kremer. Minor edits have been made post submission for readability.

After watching the Bryan Stephenson Ted talk and the Stop Documentary, what was your reaction after watching?

My eyes were in tears. What is striking between Stephenson’s (2012) talk on injustices black people suffer (e.g., 34% of Alabama black males endure a permanent loss to voting rights [00:07:16]), and Wolff’s (2015) documentary investigating New York City’s experiences with “stop and frisk” is the tone of delivery. Stephenson and Wolff approach justice’s systematized racism without explicitly calling it out in a measured, metered, and balanced progression conveying a sense of gravitas. It’s a series of “glancing blows” which chip away at the beauty bias of appeals to higher loyalties. It’s almost as if the fear of retaliation formed a new behavior more effective which permeates the telling. One might ask, “how does this relate to juvenile delinquency and its causes, and control?”

Those suffering, and allies of those, are trying to find a voice amongst peer groups which have formed to adapt to unjust situations (i.e., strain theory) where society had withdrawn from those so rejected and stigmatized (i.e., labeling theory and stigma theories), where similarities between the rejected drew peers together (i.e., differential association, social learning theory). I cannot help but think that this “tone” is an Mertonian adaptation of innovation (i.e., the long “arc of justice”). Before several courses on deviancy here at Washington State University, I could have seen this “tone” as intentional in that it adds a cinematic gravitas and manipulates an audience to take up initiative, but now I have realized that mental health issues resultant from decades of abuse may have helped form the tone—it is all too familiar amongst whistleblowers, abuse victims, and the marginalized.

Do you think that we should continue practicing stop and frisk and why?

If one were to put me on the Supreme Court today, and a case of stop and frisk were to arrive, I would very much have to rule against its practices. I view most stops demonstrated in Wolff to be violations of unreasonable search and seizure as probable cause is not “supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” (U.S. Const. amend. IV). Fellow officers, digital recording mediums, nature, nor God are sufficient administrators of judicial oaths and affirmations of societies of humanity, nor are sufficient vehicles to receive judicial descriptions measured by humanity. Humans must receive oath and affirmation, and this reception is best blinded by conflict of interest absent, but direct (i.e., jobs dependent on administration of justice) and indirect (i.e., retirements dependent on productivity and growth in businesses responsible for driving inequality in wealth gaps).

Where “persons” are generalized to a division of humanity (e.g., class, race, creed, gender, lifestyle, sex, identity), I find an ascent to tyranny’s nearest neighbor, “-ism”, where tyranny is rule by arbitrary, -isms are ruled by correlations. Oft these are ruled by stereotypes, prejudices, and discriminations of, for/against, and segregating of in- and out-group behaviors. To this end, I find that stop and frisk is a frightening application of “reasoned search and seizure” where reasons are invalid interpretations of correlation as causation (see Heather McDonald’s confusion [Wolff, 2015, 00:35:50] and proper illustration [01:17:00]). It appears to me that in most of these cases, what may be at issue is a lack of clear articulation of the boundaries of reasonable and unreasonable with respect to correlational confounds (i.e., compounding effects of redlining, offshoring of jobs etc.). To this end, labeling by correlation is a prime suspect.

The damage of labeling is evident toward the end of Wolff’s documentary, as I see evidence of trauma coming through personality psychology. David Ourlicht suffers tremendously toward the end of the documentary, I personally broke down in tears—he exudes characteristics of trauma induced mental health issues (01:23:00). It is a shame that we do not yet have as society demanding better operationalized definitions of corruption, white collar crime, and corporate crime because when David said that these kinds of policing practices destroy more people than it creates people that become agents of change (01:23:00), this reality seems too harsh to forget. Repeated stories of others’ trauma are in themselves part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’s (PTSD) diagnostic criteria (APA, 2013, p. 271). Beyond constitutional protections of inalienable rights, the mental health of individuals is to me, foundational to a pursuit of happiness. Without mental health, what is all this innovation shadowed by suffering, abuse, degradation, and marginalization (Stephenson, 2012, 00:11:57) for? Could it be “higher loyalties”?

What techniques of neutralization do we see being used by the police to defend their use of this practice?

As much as I’d prefer to use Sykes and Matza’s (1957) loosely operationalized definitions of techniques of neutralization, I will utilize Agnew and Brezina’s (2018) interpretations. Please note that I am more supportive of Sykes and Matza, and subsequent inclusion as justifications in Scott & Lyman’s (1968) typology of accounts (the other account being excuses). There are numerous techniques of neutralization, and while the police, mayor, and third parties of political divisions weigh in, first I will convey some direct police techniques of neutralization, then the mayor by way of a mayor’s overseeing of the police.

When pressured against the use of a quota system that may be damaging lives, it is said that quota systems are “lazy policing” demonstrating appeals to higher loyalties of “productive policing” (Wolff, 2015, 00:53:00). Higher loyalties are evident in the application of military strategies to police work (00:12:00), measurement of productivity through arrests and stops and frisks (00:13:00), proactive policing (00:13:30), empowering the police “to do their jobs” (00:14:00), and what stood out more above all was one line that may go unnoticed, a “commonwealth right of inquiry” (00:18:50).

While technically not a police officer, a mayor does oversee the police, and in that regard, when Bloomberg states, “… I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little,” (00:26:47) this demonstrates a denial of victim by way of implying that minorities are more worthy of being stopped. This, while indirect, implies simultaneously an appeal to higher loyalties to “whites”. Two additional examples are salient. First, the idea that that the worst of stop and frisk is that it “takes away people’s time” (00:22:30), is as a denial of injury in long term scientifically evidenced effects of stigma and labeling. Another quote, “… so, there may be some friction there,” referring to stop and frisk, “… ‘cause we have young cops, inexperienced cops, and maybe they are stopping some of the wrong people, innocent people. Um… I would be interested to see the guys that claim that they’re innocent, if they actually are” (00:20:11). This demonstrates both denial of responsibility at a departmental level and jumps to a condemnation of condemners.

As for the “commonwealth right of inquiry”, it is officially recorded in NYPD’s patrol guide as “common law right of inquiry” (NYPD, 2016). This is an “encounter between a civilian and a uniformed member of the service conducted for the purpose of asking the civilian pointed or accusatory questions because the police officer has a ‘founded suspicion’ that criminal activity is afoot” (p. 2). I urge anyone interested to read the entire section as it essentially serves as an indirect roadmap for officers to create apply techniques of neutralization progressing from Level 1 encounters (request for information) to Level 2 encounters (founded suspicion), to Level 3 encounters (reasonable suspicion), though an officer “may not create a situation (either by words or actions) where a reasonable person would not feel free to walk away.” That founded suspicion is based on “reliable hearsay information” to me is a denial of victim in that hearsay in these cases is grounded in confounds in correlation. The truth is that correlations of race and criminality are unreliable.

Which, if any, did you think were most effective? Any other interesting points you’d like to discuss?

I think the techniques of neutralization that are going to be most effective will depend on the Mertonian strain adaptations of individuals bearing witness to the techniques of neutralization. Each technique of neutralization is in and of itself an appeal, a justification, which in turn serves to minimize anticipated “friction” against one’s attitudes (i.e., feelings, thoughts, and behaviors). Techniques of neutralization are named such as these neutralize friction to allow one’s motivations to pursue goals of engaging in deviations of behavior with respect to local norms. In this regard, the question asks what are most effective, and I think that effectiveness is going to exhibit ecological stratification.

A model of effectiveness of techniques of neutralization would be driven in part by affordances (an entire theory on its own) provided by techniques of neutralization in allowing a group to partake in asocial behaviors in favor to one’s in-group peers (i.e., racism, classism, lifestyle-ism, elitism etc.) as crosscutting in-group and cross-group strain adaptations as mediated by further confounding variables of sensitivity to a spectrum of emotional to rational appeals. It is in this regard, the most effective is a political use at a general population level of appeals to higher loyalties to which Bloomberg played to with much success. At more interactional levels, I would argue that condemnation of condemners allows for redirection of anticipated harsh reactions of labeling.

In short (and long; so much for appeals to higher loyalties of succinctness favoring those privileged to steep in a field longer now able to write Mark Twain’s “short letters”), I think the effectiveness of techniques of neutralization, may be evaluated through a model better operationalized by descriptive measures. Unfortunately, unless this model is obscured from public eyes, the awareness of it may yet lead to an escalation of more weaponized typologies of techniques of neutralization in response to what once worked, and now doesn’t. So ultimately what is effective will vary depending on… well… you must have seen this coming… I hope so… drum roll please… sociology.

Sociology, a probability contest of events (activating events), movements (beliefs), health, wealth, income, and justice (consequences), protests (disputation), and redress of grievances (effective new approaches). Sociology thus seems to exhibit for all intents and purposes the characteristics of a sociological version of Ellis and Harper’s (1975) ABCDE model of cognitive/emotional impact—such is the author’s interest in socio-psycho-logical approaches. So, in short, democracy seems to be working regardless of governing system—democracy is in and of itself, an inalienable right (why else would a government seal off its internet to these words?). A higher loyalty so appealed greater than nation, people, business, system, corporation, market, race, color, creed, sex, gender, field, group, division, or individual. So, in the long view of a democratic justice, this “long arc” is itself an appeal to a higher loyalty—I stand allied with Rosa Parks, Stephenson, and many others… tired and brave.


American Psychiatric Association [APA]. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).

Agnew, R., & Brezina, T. (2018). Juvenile delinquency: Causes and control (6th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Ellis, A., & Harper, R. A. (1975). A new guide to rational living. Wilshire.

New York Police Department [NYPD]. (2016, October 15). Investigative encounters: Requests for information, common law right of inquiry and level 3 stops.

Scott, M. B., & Lyman, S. M. (1968). Accounts. American Sociological Review, 33(1), 46-62.

Stephenson, B. (2012, March 5). We need to talk about an injustice [Video]. TED Conferences.

Sykes, G. M., & Matza., D. (1957). Techniques of neutralization: A Theory of delinquency. American Sociological Review, 22(6), 664-670.

Wolff, S. [Director]. (2015). Stop – challenging NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” policies [Video]. Kino Lorber.