Records obtained through a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union against the New York Police Department under the state’s Freedom of Information law provide details about the nearly 700,000 stop-and-frisk instances last year. The figures were compiled in a NYCLU report released May 9.
“Though they account for only 4.7 percent of the city’s population, black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6 percent of stops in 2011,” the report said. Black men in that age category were stopped on an average rate of more than once per year—there were 168,126 stops conducted among the 158,406 people in this demographic.
On average, Black men and women of all ages were stopped at a rate of more than 1 in 6; Latinos less than 1 in 10; and Caucasians, 1 in 44.
While stop-and-frisk operations are concentrated in working-class neighborhoods that are predominantly Black and Latino, minorities are also the primary targets in predominantly Caucasian neighborhoods. In four of the five police precincts where 10 percent or less of the residents are Black or Latino, they nevertheless made up more than 70 percent of those stopped.
“There are police here all the time,” said Jeremiah, 16, at a barber shop in the South Bronx. He came to the U.S. with his parents from the Dominican Republic when he was three. “They stand in the lobby of our apartment building. When I see them, I wait until they leave before I go inside. But sometimes I don’t see them until I open the door. Then I close it and go back out into the street where I feel safer. Then they follow me and ask why I’m running, if I live there, if I can prove it, do I have any ID. Sometimes they frisk me, sometimes not.”
Jeremiah said a friend visiting him was ticketed for trespassing.
“He stood outside the house making a phone call. Two cops walked up to him and asked if he lived here. He said no, he was visiting a friend. Then they issued the ticket. He never even entered the house.”
About 55 percent of those stopped were also frisked. A weapon was found in less than 2 percent of the cases. While Blacks and Latinos are much more likely to be frisked, they are “less likely” to be found with a weapon, according to the report.
While stops have mushroomed, discovery of weapons has not. In 2003, a gun was found for every 266 stops; in 2011 it took 879 stops to find one.
Police officials cite these figures as proof of the program’s effectiveness, saying criminals are now more likely to leave their guns at home, knowing they may be stopped.
The most common pretext for the stops are “furtive movements” (51.3 percent) and “casing a victim or location” (32.5 percent). Other official excuses include, “acting as a lookout,” “fits a relevant description,” “suspicious bulge,” and “clothes commonly used in a crime.”
“I’ve been stopped and frisked three times since I was 16,” said Tyler Green, a 22-year-old African-American, at a basketball court in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of Harlem. It occurs “on my way home from the subway, going to the store and walking to visit my aunt. It has happened in the evening, same thing every time. A police car drives up, three or four of them jump out and grab me. They put my hands on the top of the car and frisk me, take my wallet and my mobile.”
When Green asked the cops why he was being stopped, the first time he was told someone had reported a disturbance in the apartment building where he lives and he “fit the description.” The second time they said he seemed to be “checking out” a house.
“The third time they just gave back the wallet and the mobile and drove away without saying anything,” Green said. “I’ve never been charged. But I’m on my guard now. I think about how I dress and how I act. I used not to be against the police, but this has got to stop.”
No charges were filed in 90 percent of the stops.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the program in an interview with the New York Post May 11. “Stops are a deterrent,” he said. “If you think you may be stopped on the street, you are a lot less likely to carry a gun. It’s that simple.”
Stop-and-frisk incidents are continuing to increase. In the first three months of 2012 more than 200,000 stops were reported, up 20,000 from the same period last year.
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