Stop and Frisk

Today a U.S. District Court will hear opening arguments in a class-action lawsuit challenging the New York Police Department’s use of warrantless stops in “crime-trafficked” communities.

Lalit Clarkson, David Floyd, Deon Dennis and David Ourlicht, four black men who were stopped and questioned by the NYPD, are alleging “stop and frisk” violates their constitutional right to privacy. Their assessment is accurate; stop and frisk abuses fourth amendment rights and the evidence offered in Floyd v. City of New York will prove their allegation is correct.

The NYPD has stopped five million New Yorkers since stop-and-frisk was implemented nine years ago. Now the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is the organization responsible for filing the class-action suit, is questioning the ethics of New York’s law enforcement.

“We’re putting the NYPD on trial, and the stakes are the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers,” Vincent Warren, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told CNS News.

The complainants are asking U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin to bar stop-and-frisk, issue reforms and appoint a monitor to ensure the NYPD department complies with her ruling.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly think stop-and-frisk is a successful crime-fighting tool that keeps illegal guns in homes and off-the-street. But soda Batman and his Robin sidekick aren’t recognizing how race factors into the enforcement of the law. Here’s what Bloomberg and Kelly are cherry-picking:

  • New York’s murder-rate is the lowest it’s been since the 1960s. There were only 419 murders in 2012.
  • The NYPD confiscated 780 illegal guns in 2012.
  • Stop-and-frisk is credited with deterring black and Latino men from committing crime and harboring illegal firearms.

Here’s the truth:

  • The NYPD frisked more than 500,000 people in 2012. Blacks and Hispanics accounted for 87 percent of those stopped.
  • Yes, 780 guns were confiscated, but the actual a recovery rate is 0.15 percent. One gun confiscated for every 683 people stopped equals an unsuccessful policy.
  • Only 6 percent of NYPD stop-and-frisks stops result in arrest.
  • Jeffrey Hagan, Ph.D., a Columbia University law professor, found race is the primary factor for micro and macro stop-and-frisk targeting.

Still, supporters of stop-and-frisk are toting the benefits without acknowledging the racially-charged implications.

“The police don’t make deployments based on population or race. They make deployments based on crime,” Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute told NPR. “Getting stopped can be humiliating, infuriating, scary, but it is a lesser evil than the crime rates that the city was saddled with in the early 1990s that were disproportionately taking black and Hispanic lives.”

MacDonald hasn’t heard these stories often enough.

“I remember squad cars pulling up. They just pulled up aggressively, and the cops came out with their guns drawn,” Nicholas Peart, a witness in the federal case, told NPR. “I think it left me embarrassed, humiliated and upset — all three things rolled up into one.”

“[They] threw me up against the wall, took everything out of my pockets, threw it on the floor, dumped my bag on the floor, my books and everything,” Ourlicht, a plaintiff in the case explained to NPR. “I had the guns to the back of my head. Like, I didn’t want to look up or move because there were so many guns drawn. It’s scary.”

The lead plaintiff, David Floyd, is a medical student in the Bronx. He was stopped twice. One time he was attempting to assist a neighbor who was locked out of their apartment complex. The NYPD detained Floyd and the neighbor on suspicious of burglary and searched their pockets for stolen goods.

Their stories and the similar tales from the dozen black and Latino men and women witnesses called to the stand should persuade Judge Scheindlin to see the unconstitutionality of “stop-and-frisk.” Black and brown folks deserve to feel safe in their neighborhoods, but not at the expense of their humanity.

Warren, writing for the Melissa Harris-Perry Show blog, sums it up best.

“But this unsubstantiated claim–that stop-and-frisk reduces crime–is essential for the NYPD. Without it, stop-and-frisk just looks like one big waste of public resources spent harassing black and brown citizens. The claim is meant to imply that we should be okay with the constitutional violation of thousands of people’s rights every day because it’s a price we have to pay for our safety.”

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