Michael R. Bloomberg recently traveled to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to offer his final State of the City message, and it was a model of self-congratulation. While Bloomberg is often seen as a champion of the wealthy, well-connected New Yorkers, his tenure has been somewhat more nuanced than that. He has a good deal for which to be congratulated and applauded. However, his administration’s record on stop-and -frisk is not on that list.
Under the mayor’s stewardship, the New York City Police Department has stopped more than 3.8 million New Yorkers, an overwhelming number of them African-American and Latino men, in the most whimsical and unpredictable of circumstances. In some cases, Black men have been stopped, searched and humiliated while doing nothing more than standing in conversation in front of their apartment buildings.
There are young Black and Brown men who complain that they have been stopped multiple times by New York’s finest. Some say they have been spoken to in the harshest language by police officers.
The Bloomberg administration continues to portray the practice as an integral and effective plank in its crime-fighting strategy.
“In New York City, fewer young men are being killed or shot and fewer are going to jail than ever before–and that’s a record of accomplishment that we intend to continue until Mike Bloomberg leaves office,” said Bloomberg’s spokesman John McCarthy.
The trouble with that position is that there is no credible evidence to establish a link between the reduction in New York City’s record of violent crimes and the random stopping of hundreds of thousands of young Black and Brown New Yorkers. Crime has gone down in New York in the last decade–just as it has in other cities that don’t employ the stop-and-frisk policy.
The public outcry against this system of policing, which seems strikingly similar to the techniques used in 1940s Mississippi, has been forceful and has come from everyone, from the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Action Network to the NAACP and the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Even the judiciary is making known its criticism of stop-and-frisk. Not long ago, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that elements of the practice were unconstitutional. Indeed, the judge ruled that the stop-and-frisk policy violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The decision was focused on people detained by police in a group of residential buildings in the Bronx.
Perhaps in response to the growing and relentless condemnation of stop-and-frisk, the practice seems to be losing steam. A recent report indicated that the number of people stopped declined by 22 percent, 533,042 New Yorkers, in 2012, from 686,000 in 2011. Still, that is no cause for celebration. At this pace, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers will still be stopped, searched, embarrassed and filled with distrust of the very police force that is sworn to protect them.
In his years in office, Bloomberg has done an outstanding job of highlighting the need for reforming gun laws. He has also established a far more accessible rapport with the city’s communities of color than was the case under his predecessor’s toxic relationship with Black and Brown New York. However, he would go a long way in burnishing an even more admirable legacy by ending this atrocious practice. It’s simply the right thing to do.