The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 77/No. 32      September 9, 2013

Judge orders NY to
reform stop and frisk
(front page)
NEW YORK — U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in a class-action suit Aug. 12 that the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics are unconstitutional and racially discriminatory and ordered a series of reforms aimed at moderating what she called a “proactive policing tool” — stopping working people on the street without cause.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly countered by appealing to working people to support current policing methods they argue have brought the rate of violent crime in the city to an all-time low. Their message was foremost aimed at workers who are Black and live in neighborhoods with the highest levels of gang activity, shootings and other predatory violence.

Based on personal stories of 12 plaintiffs, testimony from cops on both sides and “expert” analysts of police data, the judge ruled that the stop-and-frisk practices violate Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable search and seizure and 14th Amendment protection from denial of equal protection of the law. She said top city and police officials acted with “deliberate indifference” to the rights of New York residents.

Based on the NYPD’s own figures, Scheindlin said, stops and frisks have been routinely carried out without the “reasonable suspicion” required by law. Among the examples she cited was the statistic that 42 percent of the 4.4 million reported police stops between 2004 and 2012 were carried out solely on the vague pretext of “furtive movement.”

The NYPD’s practices amount to racial profiling, the judge said, because they disproportionately target Black and Latino men.

According to police records, 52 percent of those stopped in recent years were Black, more than double their representation in the city’s population. Blacks and Hispanics were also disproportionately arrested as compared to Caucasians when stopped on suspicion of the same crime, and were disproportionately subject to physical force. About 6 percent of stops result in arrest.

According to police figures, the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn has both the highest rate of violent crime and the highest rate of stop and frisk. The total number of stops last year represented 25 percent of the neighborhood’s population.

“They stopped my 14-year-old son three times,” Diane Richmond 34, a retail store worker, told the Militant. “I don’t like it. He’s only 14. Three times. Come on! That’s like profiling him. I think stop and frisk is overdone.”

“Stop and frisk is a good idea,” said Michael Best, 26, also of Brownsville. “I was stopped once. They said I fit a description, and I didn’t like it. But it cleans up the area and makes it a safer place to live.”

“It’s good and bad. That’s just what it is,” said Devon White, 28, a construction worker. “But I should be able to walk the streets. Instead people stay in the house because they don’t want to be harassed by cops. They got to do their job. But it’s the way they do it.”

“Unmarked cops should be banned from doing stops,” added White, who said plainclothes cops recently jumped out of an unmarked car and went through his pockets without any explanation.

“I’m for stop and frisk by all means,” said building super Harold Johnson, 47. “We got to stop the guns. These young guys don’t know how to shoot, they just shoot any which way. But some of the cops are just hostile — and then when you respond, you get set on.”

East Harlem, a largely working-class area that is more than half Hispanic with a substantial Black population, is another stop-and-frisk hot spot.

“The cops stopped and beat me up right here four years ago, a couple of people taped it,” said Darrin Sax, 45, in East Harlem. He worked as a porter, but is now on disability. “I was cited for resisting arrest. If I was doing something wrong, that’s one thing. But the cops shouldn’t be doing this.”

“Another day I was going to see a friend and the cops stopped me for trespassing,” said Sax, who is African-American. “How can you be trespassing when you live right across the street?”

“I like stop and frisk,” said Lejuan Gabbibon, 24, who added that he was most recently stopped a week ago when cops said he fit the description of someone with a gun. “But if we keep stop and frisk, cops should be more polite — no staring at civilians because a lot of people in the neighborhood don’t like cops. Cops should be calmer.”

According to police records, more than half of stops are followed by a frisk. Hundreds of guns are seized as a result of the sweeping, arbitrary searches — 729 in the course of 533,000 stops in 2012.

Stop and frisk not ending
While making clear she was “not ordering an end to the practice of stop and frisk,” Judge Scheindlin appointed an “independent monitor” and a “facilitator” to oversee the NYPD’s compliance with policies and training reforms. She said police should have to report details to justify each stop and provide those stopped with a copy. She ordered a one-year pilot project of police body-worn cameras in the precinct with the most recorded stops in each borough.

If the NYPD is forced to change its methods “there is no question about it, violent crime will go up,” warned Police Commissioner Ray Kelly on “Meet the Press” Aug. 18. “The stark reality is that violence is happening disproportionately in minority communities, and that, unfortunately, is in big cities throughout America.”

The number of murders in New York City fell from a high of more than 2,200 in 1990 to under 500 in recent years — 419 last year. It dropped sharply to less than 1,600 by the time Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor in 1994 and continued to fall during his administration, which was marked by more aggressive police tactics. The fall in murders, assaults and robberies coincided with a general fall across the U.S., but was particularly sharp in New York. By comparison, the murder rate last year in Chicago was nearly four times that of New York. In Detroit it was nine times.

‘Broken windows’ policy
Under Giuliani, the NYPD grew from 28,000 to 40,000 as he flooded working-class neighborhoods with cops. Under a new “broken windows” policy, cops began making arrests for minor law infractions, like spraying graffiti or panhandling that had previously been ignored. The policy was based on the theory that sending swarms of cops to stop such “quality of life” crimes would bring down the rates of murder, burglary and other major felonies.

It was also under Giuliani that cops began the systematic practice of stopping and frisking working people.

Stop and frisk tactics became more aggressive under Bloomberg, who was elected mayor in 2002. The number of stops, according to police records, more than doubled between 2002 and 2011 before declining slightly in 2012 following protests, lawsuits and stepped-up media attention. During Bloomberg’s three terms, the murder rate has declined slightly.

“Unlike many cities, where wealthy areas get special treatment, the NYPD targets its manpower to the areas that suffer the highest crime levels,” wrote Bloomberg in an opinion piece run in the Washington Post. Opponents of stop and frisk argue that the stops don’t reflect the city’s overall census numbers, he said. “By that flawed logic, our police officers would stop women as often as men and senior citizens as often as young people. … The absurd result of such a strategy would be far more crimes committed against black and Latino New Yorkers. When it comes to policing, political correctness is deadly.”

The issue has become a focus of the 2013 mayoral election, with the front-running Democratic Party candidates vowing to press for police reforms to show they have a more sophisticated way to control working people here.

Candidate Christine Quinn has shifted away from her previous strong backing for Kelly — whom President Barack Obama had considered appointing as head of the Department of Homeland Security — and said stop and frisk has “gotten out of hand.” The other Democratic front-runner, Bill de Blasio, has pledged to fire the police chief.
Related articles:
Public outcry, protests force arrest of killer cop in Toronto
‘Release victims of Chicago cop torture and frame-up’
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