Human Stories Show Toll of a Stop-and-Frisk Policy Run by an ‘Out of Control’ NYPD

July 27, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

The New York City Police Department’s numbers on its stop-and-frisk policy tell a damning story of city authorities unconcerned about civil liberties or racial profiling, and how its policy adversely affects numerous communities.

But a new report adds to the bleakness of the story. That report from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) fills out the already tawdry tale with the “human stories behind the staggering statistics and sheds new light on the breadth of impact this policy is having on individuals and groups, in neighborhoods, and citywide.”

The statistics, which CCR helped disclose, reveal that in 2011, NYPD officers stopped more than 680,000 people, 84 percent of them were black or Latino. Moreover, 88 percent of the stops produced no arrests.

A Pace University law professor told The New York Times that people “are starting to wonder: ‘What’s really going on here? Is this a racial policy?”  

The numbers say it most certainly is. Yet the city’s long-serving mayor is adamant that the policy saves lives, prevents crimes. But Michael Bloomberg’s rhetoric remains just that, especially when the vast majority of stop-and-frisks produce no arrests.

And in May, U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin permitted a class-action lawsuit against the city’s frisking policy, saying she was seriously concerned about officials’ “troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental rights.”

Scheindlin also noted that the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment bars government, including the NYPD, from conducting unreasonable “searches and seizures.” Moreover, she pointed to the Constitution’s 14th Amendment barring government officials from depriving individuals of liberty, including their equal protection rights.

The NYPD seems to have trouble understanding or working within constitutional parameters. The judge noted that between 2004 and 2009 the NYPD stopped and frisked a lot of people, 50 percent of them black, 30 percent Latino.

From a series of interviews of people who have been stopped and frisked in the city, the CCR report reveals a policy targeting communities of color, the homeless, low-income people, among others.

“What these stories describe are widespread and systematic human and civil rights violations against thousands of New Yorkers on a daily basis,” the report’s summary states.

“The picture that emerges from the stories is as clear as it is disturbing,” the report continues. “Each year, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are being illegally profiled and subjected to humiliating experiences at the hands of the NYPD.”

The report’s interviews also reveal a staggering toll the policy has on people’s well-being. Several people told of being sexually abused during the stops, facing extortion, and being disparaged by abusive officers in public. “Stops and frisks are steeped in the ever-present threat of police violence,” the report states. “Several interviewees reported that stops often result in excessive force by police, describing instances when officers slapped them, threw the up against the walls or onto the ground, beat them up, used a Taser on them, or otherwise hurt them physically.”

The policy, as detailed in the report, and by others such as The New York Times, can lead to improper arrests or arrests for minor violations, such as small amounts of marijuana. But such arrests, humiliating and needless, then force these people to defend themselves in a costly court system, sometimes causing them to lose a job or an employment opportunity. It can take days before judges drop charges as groundless.

The CCR report also supports what the NYPD statistics reveal, a racial profiling policy.

“Most stops occur in Black and Latino neighborhoods and Black and Latino people are significantly more likely to be stopped than White people, even in areas where populations are racially mixed or mostly White,” the report says.

 In “Stop and Frisk: The Human Impact,” CCR concludes that the NYPD “must end the illegal practice of stopping and frisking people based on profiling instead of legitimate suspicion of criminal activity.”    

Until the NYPD decides to respect civil liberties, hundreds of thousands of people will continue to be unfairly and illegally harassed and seriously harmed by an ignoble policy that despite what Bloomberg claims does nothing to promote safety or advance justice.

[image via wikimedia commons]