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Silent march to speak volumes

Manhattan Burrow President | , Scott Stringer | 6/14/2012, 3:38 p.m.
Scott Stringer released Immigrants rights and services manual

During recent years, the NYPD's policy on stop-and-frisk has become one of the defining civil rights issues of our time. Across the five boroughs, New Yorkers are calling for reform of a strategy that overwhelmingly targets people of color and divides our city.

We need to speak with one voice on this issue, so I invite you to join with me and a host of community leaders in a Father's Day march on June 17. We will be calling attention to an NYPD policy that stops thousands of our fellow citizens every day--some 700,000 last year, the vast majority for no reason at all.

We are not marching against the men and women in blue. I agree with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Commissioner Ray Kelly that New York's dramatic reduction in crime is one of the city's proudest achievements. It is a crucially important trend that underpins our economic vitality, our neighborhoods and our quality of life.

But recent statistics about stop-and-frisk paint a troubling picture of how the current version of this policy affects Black and Latino men. In 2011, the number of stops was roughly seven times higher than the number in 2002.

* In 94 percent of stops, no arrests were made.

* In 86 percent of cases, the person stopped was either Black or Latino.

* In 99.9 percent of stops, no gun was found.

Don't get me wrong, there are times when police are justified in stopping and frisking subjects they deem to be a real threat.

But we need to base these stops on something more than "furtive movement," which today is the most commonly checked box by police officers when asked to explain a stop. It's a standard so loose, Philadelphia banned it as part of a negotiated settlement in federal court.

The Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable searches has been clearly defined by the courts: The only legal justification for a stop is when an officer has a reasonable suspicion based on facts--not on a hunch and certainly not the color of someone's skin--that the individual being stopped has just committed a crime or is about to. Anything else is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution.

I am encouraged that the NYPD has expressed some openness to improving training and accountability around stop-and-frisk, but much more needs to be done.

We need to build bridges of trust and respect into every neighborhood by exploring innovative policing strategies that have worked in other cities like Chicago, Boston and Cincinnati--strategies that work with communities, not against them, in the battle to reduce violent crime. It's a message I delivered nine months ago at Riverside Church in Harlem. Since then, I have spent many Sundays listening to congregants in other churches talk of the fear--and despair--they feel about a police policy that so clearly targets people of color. I have heard the anguish of mothers whose sons were thrown up against their own apartment buildings for no apparent reason.

Last fall, I called on the Department of Justice to launch a probe of our stop-and-frisk program to see if civil rights are being violated, and I was proud to have worked with all 12 Manhattan Community Boards when they unanimously passed a resolution calling for reform of stop-and-frisk. But now all of us--from uptown and downtown, East Side and West Side--must join together and make our voices heard. The drive to reform stop-and-frisk involves all parts of the city, not just the communities it has impacted. When an injustice affects one New Yorker, it affects all of us. That's why I hope you'll join us for our march on Father's Day, June 17 at 3 p.m., on 110th St. between Fifth and Lenox Avenues.

New York City can be tougher on crime by being smarter on crime. Once we do that, we'll make this a better, safer city for all of us.