New York’s ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy declared unconstitutional
By Freddie Allen
WASHINGTON — The stop-and-frisk policy practiced by the New York City Police Department was little more than “indirect racial profiling,” according to a federal judge who ruled that police routinely violated the fourth and 14th amendment rights of Blacks and Latinos.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg scoffed at the ruling, saying, “This is a very dangerous decision made by a judge who I think does not understand how policing works.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union analyzed how policing works in the nation’s largest police department and found that “NYPD stopped and interrogated people 532,911 times, a 448 percent increase in street stops since 2002 — when police recorded 97,296 stops during Mayor Bloomberg’s first year in office.”
The NYCLU report, titled “Stop and Frisk 2012,” also found that 90 percent of the people who were stopped were innocent and roughly 55 percent were Black. Whites were stopped and interrogated less than 10 percent of the time. Even in some New York City neighborhoods with low minority populations, Blacks and Latinos still made up 70 percent of the stops.
“The NYPD defends its abusive stop-and-frisk program as the reason why New York City’s streets are safe. But last year, stops went down 22 percent and homicide was at an all time low,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn. “This gives the lie to the NYPD’s repeated claims that more and more stops are needed to save lives.”
Opponents of New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy often cite the low number of stops that actually netted weapons. Police recovered weapons during 1.8 percent of the stops of Blacks and Latinos. When whites were stopped, a weapon was recovered 3.9 percent of the time.
Writing in her opinion, Judge Scheindlin noted this disparity. “Once a stop is made, Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be subjected to the use of force than whites, despite the fact that whites are more likely to be found with weapons or contraband.”
Many civil rights groups argue the stop-and-frisk policy is wasteful, given the police department’s own data and the harm it causes in minority communities who often have a distant and suspicious relationship with law enforcement.
“Basically, what Bloomberg is saying is that it doesn’t matter that a 13-year-old is being handcuffed and taken to the precinct when he is on his way home, it doesn’t matter that somebody who is walking across the street after taking care of his mom is pushed against the wall and profiled,” said Kimberle Crenshaw, law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and co-founder of the African American Policy Foundation. “What matters is that very small percentage that we think might have been deterred from doing crime has been deterred.”
Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the decision in New York City might lead to federal lawsuits in other major metropolitan areas where police use stop-and-frisk tactics.
In New Orleans, utilizing curfew laws, police disproportionately funneled young Blacks into the criminal justice system. In 2011, for example, 704 Black youth were detained. Only 47 white teens were arrested during the same period.
In Philadelphia, the American Civil Liberties Union found in 2011, police did not have reasonable suspicion during 47 percent of frisks that occurred. Eighty-five percent of the frisks conducted that year were of minorities. And in Baltimore, the NAACP took the police department to court to gain access to records that will enable them to investigate complaints of racial profiling.
Although Judge Scheindlin didn’t move to outlaw stop-and-frisk in New York City completely, she required a number of improvements, including: “an immediate change to certain policies and activities of the NYPD, a trial program requiring the use of body-worn cameras in one precinct per borough, a community-based joint remedial process to be conducted by a court-appointed facilitator, and the appointment of an independent monitor to (oversee) the NYPD’s conduct of stops and frisks.”
“The over-criminalization and the mass incarceration of African Americans and Latinos has gotten out of hand; it has gone too far,” said Arnwine. “People are tired of it, and people are going to demand sound law enforcement principles and not just these racially targeting principles.”