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A welcome and fitting decision on stop-and-frisk

Jonathan P Hicks | 8/15/2013, 10:22 a.m. | Updated on 8/15/2013, 10:22 a.m.
It was a decision, nearly 200 pages in length, that at long last cast the New York City Police Department’s ...
Jonathan P. Hicks

It was a decision, nearly 200 pages in length, that at long last cast the New York City Police Department’s offensive stop-and-frisk initiative in its proper, repugnant role. After months of heartbreaking testimony from young Black and Brown men who have been stopped, searched and humiliated by police officers, the ruling by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin was as scathing as it was decisive.

The judge ruled that stop-and-frisk amounted to a clear violation of the civil rights of New Yorkers. She further ruled that the policy amounted to little more than outright racial harassment, an initiative that targeted people of color who had done nothing wrong. The New York Police Department, she said, had long engaged in a “policy of indirect racial profiling” that resulted in police officers detaining “Blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white.”

Scheindlin made patently clear to the world what had become firsthand knowledge for nearly everyone in the African-American and Latino communities in New York City. Young people in communities of color have been stopped by the millions in the last few years for doing nothing illegal and nothing to attract suspicion apart from being young and nonwhite.

“I also conclude that the city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” the judge stated, pointing to statements made by the mayor and police commissioner. Scheindlin called for a special monitor to oversee the Police Department’s practices as well as a pilot program under which police officers will be required to wear cameras to record their interactions with citizens.

The policy of stop-and-frisk has been a bedrock initiative of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. They have strongly defended the practice, insisting that routinely stopping Black and Brown young people on a random basis has been a critical ingredient in their strategy to fight crime. The mayor even went so far as to insist, outlandishly, that African-Americans were not stopped in sufficient numbers and that white New Yorkers were stopped and frisked too frequently.

Still, the decision rightly drew wide applause from the civil rights community both in New York and throughout the country. Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president and chief executive of the NAACP, summed it up best.

“This is a groundbreaking victory,” he said. “Scheindlin recognized what the NAACP has been saying for years: The racial profiling tactic of stop-and-frisk has no place in our enlightened society. We hope that Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly will heed this decision and end their crude and abusive policy.”

Jealous’ aspirations for a Bloomberg change of heart were far from being realized. Bloomberg blasted the judge’s ruling, saying that he has no intention of amending his Police Department’s disposition on the matter in the few months he has remaining in office. Moreover, Bloomberg has vowed to appeal the ruling in court. “You’re not going to see any change in tactics overnight,” a defiant Bloomberg said, adding that he would like to keep the current practice in place until the end of his administration, on Dec. 31. “I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a lot of people dying,” the mayor said.

If Bloomberg doesn’t quite understand how offensive stop-and-frisk is to millions of New Yorkers, then it is incumbent upon voters to make certain that the candidates vying to replace him get the message loud and clear. So far, they have picked up on the public mood, with varying degrees of clarity. It is now time to hold the candidates’ feet to the fire and insist that each candidate be crystal clear on how he or she would amend the pattern of racial profiling that is so repugnant to many New Yorkers.