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DN Editorial: A chokehold on rights

In an old "Saturday Night Live" skit called "White Like Me," Eddie Murphy went undercover as a white person.

IN AN OLD "Saturday Night Live" skit called "White Like Me," Eddie Murphy went undercover as a white person.

The punch line: When blacks aren't around, white people behave differently, giving one another free stuff, including no-strings bank loans.

The skit played on the idea that whites and blacks suspect one another of having tribal loyalties and behaviors that they keep secret from one another, and only bring out when they're in "safe" company.

Murphy's bit was funny. Not so funny is the belief among some blacks that police are out to get them, and that white society thinks their lives are expendable. Those suspicions surely got confirmed as something other than myth in the past month, when two grand juries opted not to charge white officers in the deaths of two black men.

Just this week, a New York grand jury decided to bring no criminal charges against Daniel Pantaleo, a white officer who grabbed Eric Garner in a chokehold and killed him.

Garner was selling loose cigarettes on the street, when he was surrounded by officers and thrown to the ground. A video documented the horrific scene.

These cases - and the decisions of the grand juries - are sickening, and yet those two high-profile cases coming so close together might give momentum to more serious attention being paid to this issue.

Already, groups around the country, including Philadelphia, are out in protest of the killing of Garner as well as Michael Brown and others. Clearly, wholesale police reforms need to address the power and practices of law enforcement.

But the police need to do something that may be impossible for them to do: to acknowledge the role that they play in race relations, and realize that their actions may be based on assumptions that have nothing to do with law enforcement, and everything to do with prejudice.

In fact, there is compelling evidence that this is the case - right here in Philadelphia.

Soon after being elected, Mayor Nutter instituted a stop-and-frisk policy to try to get guns off the street. In 2011, the ACLU brought a lawsuit against the city charging racial profiling. Since then, the group has been monitoring the results of this program, and those reports provide compelling evidence that this practice should be stopped. In its first report to the court after monitoring the program, the ACLU found that nearly half of the police stops were unconstitutional.

The most recent report will be released at the end of this year, but we doubt that it will show much difference from last year's. In that report, the data is compelling:

In 2012, Philadelphia police made 215,000 stops, with minorities being 76 percent of those stopped; 85 percent of those frisked were minorities.

In all, three guns were recovered. This from a program that justifies itself as reducing gun crime.

Last year, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that New York's stop-and-frisk program - in which police stopped twice as many people as Philadelphia, although the city has more than five times our population - was unconstitutional.

With these results, it's hard not to consider that the practice of stopping and frisking primarily black males is the official police sanctioning of the wholesale suspicion of black males. From there, it isn't a long leap to suggest that the practice of stopping and frisking minorities is like a gateway drug to the further escalation of mistrust and tension - that will lead to more lost lives at the hands of the police.