In the world of young Black and Brown New York City, it has become a likelihood rather than a possibility. They are stopped and searched by police officers so frequently that it has become an anticipated, seemingly unavoidable fact of life.
It is time now for the federal government to investigate the New York City Police Department’s unsavory so-called stop and frisk program, the practice of stopping young people by the thousands on the off chance that they might have broken any laws. They are suspected of nothing; the evidence against them is totally undetermined. They are stopped because they are young and because they are not white. It’s nothing more than a fishing expedition that humiliates and dehumanizes New Yorkers in shocking numbers.
The NYPD’s own statistics indicate that there were more than 600,000 such stops in 2010, with about 10 percent of those resulting in arrests. About 80 percent of those who are stopped and frisked are Black and Latino, their numbers indicate.
It’s an abusive practice and it has simply gone too far. This was underscored by the recent arrest of a young New York police officer who was charged with making a racially motivated false arrest of a Staten Island Black man. The police officer, who is white, was caught on a recording celebrating the fact that he arrested the man, cheering that he had “fried another n…”
The officer, Michael Daragjati, was also charged with arranging for the violent beating of another man whom he suspected of stealing a snowplow from the contracting business that he runs in his off-duty hours. Paul Tuchman, the assistant United States Attorney in Brooklyn, called Daragjati, a “blatant racist.”
The Daily News reported that Daragjati has been sued twice earlier for falsely arresting African-Americans, and that the city had settled one case for $12,500. The other case has not yet been determined.
And therein lies the problem. The stop and frisk program operates on its own script, allowing officers to detain people-primarily young Black and Latino men-without any rhyme or reason. It is whimsical, virtually capricious in its application.
The police department argues that the stop and frisk program saves lives, particularly in Black and Latino areas of the city. “Police stops save lives,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said, “especially in the minority community, which benefited most from the 2,734 fewer murders in the first eight years of the Bloomberg administration compared to the prior eight.”
Nonetheless, this end-justifies-the-means logic is simply wrongheaded. Moreover, it fails to acknowledge that, by the police department’s own figures, there are hundreds of thousands of people-90 percent of those stopped-who have done nothing criminal whatsoever. This is a practice that seems somehow patently unconstitutional.
Would the department, the federal government or the public sanction a routine, wholesale sweep of the business district in Midtown Manhattan to seek the one person in 10 who might be guilty of some white-collar crime? It’s time for the police to find more creative, less dehumanizing methods of curbing crime. And it’s time for the federal government to assist them.