Soledad O'Brien returns w/ CNN's 'Black in America' Nov. 18 focused on NYC 'stop and frisk'

Soledad O'Brien, a former CNN anchor and documentarian, left the network last year soon after Jeff Zucker came aboard.

CNN was pushing for more documentaries and shows from outside production companies. So O'Brien started her own production company Starfish Media and has sold her latest "Black in America" back to her old employer. She had filmed several specials going back to 2007 on the subject. This time, in the wake of Ferguson, she tackled New York City's "stop and frisk" program and its ramifications on the minorities impacted. Her new special airs Tuesday night on CNN at 9 p.m. and is dubbed "Black in America: Black and Blue."

A U.S. District Judge rules the policies - after 11 years - unconstitutional and under a new mayor and police commissioner, policies have shifted. But the legacy of those 11 years remain and cop culture does not change overnight. "What is the balance between keeping communities safe and not trampling on people's civil rights?" said O'Brien.

She interviews teens with no police record who have gotten frisked dozens of times for no particular reason except they were black and young. Many have started videotaping cops during any potential confrontation, thanks to easy access to videos via smartphones. We see one video where a cop threatens to handcuff a bunch of black kids for standing in a doorway. "You can imagine the humiliation and shame this causes over time and how this affects a person's psyche," O'Brien said.

The videos do provide both sides a level of safety. They could prove justifiable actions by cops. Or it could prove that police officers over-extended themselves and help a victim prove they were mistreated.

The stats are stark: over 11 years, New York City cops made 5 million frisk and stops and more than 80 percent were black or Latino. Only a small percentage were arrested for committing crimes.

The concept behind "stop and frisk" is along the lines of the "broken windows" philosophy. Stop worse crime by tackling petty crime first. But to many civil liberty experts, "stop and frisk" goes way over the line.

"It's not good for cops trying to foster good relations in a community," O'Brien said. "It makes people in that community feel like they have targets on their backs."

Crime has dropped since 2002 in New York City. But crime has dropped in many cities without "stop and frisk" so a causal relation is hard to ascertain.

O'Brien is working on other projects: women who have babies in prison, the explosion of heroin in suburbs (for Al Jazeera) and overlooked Medal of Honor winners. So far, she likes the flexibility of doing work she wants to do and pitching ideas to different networks, who have a fairly heavy appetite for quality content.

TV preview

"Black in America" with Soledad O'Brien

9 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 18, CNN

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.