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A sobering, wretched example of the crime of stop and frisk

Jonathan P Hicks | 12/29/2011, 2:21 p.m.
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For those who are still not convinced of the pervasive and degrading impact of police misconduct and the corrosive practice of stop and frisk, the compelling and chilling account of Nicholas K. Peart, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College, should remove all doubt.

His account, which appeared in the New York Times' op-ed page, described how, on his 18th birthday five years ago, he was sitting on a bench enjoying the company of friends in Upper Manhattan when, out of the blue, he found himself surrounded by police cars and ordered to get on the ground. After being frisked and degraded, his identification papers looked over, he was deemed not to be a threat but was left on the ground.

It was an experience he would have a half-dozen times. Time after time he has been stopped in various parts of the city, by different police officers. The only constants in the equation were that he was an African-American young man on the streets of New York City and that he had committed no crime.

"For young people in my neighborhood, getting stopped and frisked is a rite of passage." Peart said. "We expect the police to jump us at any moment. We know the rules: don't run and don't try to explain, because speaking up for yourself might get you arrested or worse. And we all feel the same way-degraded, harassed, violated and criminalized because we're Black or Latino."

The New York City Police Department's stop and frisk practice amounts to nothing more than a toxic mix of racial profiling and abuse of privacy rights. It has also created a completely new dynamic in the relationship between a new generation of young African-American and Latino New Yorkers and the people who are charged with protecting the community, a relationship characterized by distrust, disaffection and anxiety.

An analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union indicated that roughly 3 million innocent New Yorkers were subjected to police stops between 2004 and 2010, and that Black and Latino New Yorkers were the overwhelming victims. Of them, nearly 90 percent were innocent of any wrongdoing.

It's a problem that has become increasingly worse. In 2004, 315,000 New Yorkers were stopped by police, 89 percent of whom were innocent of any crime. Of those stopped, 50 percent were Black, 30 percent were Latino and 9 percent were white.

By 2010, the number of people stopped on the streets of New York had skyrocketed to more than 600,000, with 86 percent of them innocent of any wrongdoing. The racial breakdown was virtually unchanged.

It's time again for New York's elected officials to call upon the federal Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to undertake an official inquiry. That might well lead to a consent decree to have the courts monitor the behavior of the police department. The practice amounts to nothing more than abuse of power that should be addressed as quickly-and strongly-as possible.

Peart, who now counsels young people on how to deal with police abuse, said it best:

"When I was young, I thought cops were cool. They had a respectable and honorable job to keep people safe and fight crime. Now, I think their tactics are unfair and they abuse their authority. The police should consider the consequences of a generation of young people who want nothing to do with them."