Ten years ago [last week], a federal judge rejected the stop-and-frisk practices of the New York City Police Department, finding that it had engaged in racial profiling and repeated unconstitutional stops. This was a rare instance of accountability for the NYPD and a landmark victory for the hundreds of thousands of primarily Black and Latinx New Yorkers who had been stopped by the police without cause.
One of us is the Black executive director of the organization that filed the class action lawsuit that led to the ruling, Floyd v. City of New York. The other is a long-time Nuyorican organizer and the Executive Director of the Justice Committee, a grassroots organization that works with survivors of police violence and families who have lost loved ones to the NYPD. A decade later, while we commemorate this legal and organizing breakthrough, we’re also taking stock of its impact, and the stark truth is stops are actually on the rise again.
In fact, the NYPD’s use of racial profiling has continued and may have worsened. In issuing the 2013 ruling, the judge in the case designated a federal monitor to oversee reforms, including the public release of information about stops made by the NYPD. The latest Monitor’s report, released in June, found that nearly all– 97% –of those stopped by the NYPD’s Neighborhood Safety Teams (Mayor Adams’s version of the notorious plainclothes anti-crime units) were Black or Latinx. At the time of the 2013 ruling, which deemed the police’s racial profiling unconstitutional, about 85% were of Black or Latinx New Yorkers.
We always knew this would be a long struggle, but true transparency about how the NYPD is operating in our communities is a common denominator that we can all agree is foundational in cultivating real public safety and not something we can wait on any longer.
Ten years ago, we united to end stop and frisk – now advocates are uniting behind the How Many Stops Act (HMSA), which consists of two measures designed to increase transparency into the NYPD’s most common interactions with New Yorkers.
At present, the NYPD is required to release data on only “reasonable suspicion” stops. The public has no official data on “lower level” stops: when the police ask people for basic information or when they ask people more accusatory questions based on a “found suspicion.” Yet abuse is no less likely during these kinds of encounters and may be more likely, given that the NYPD is permitted to keep them secret. Indeed, lower-level stops have led to police killings of Black and Latinx New Yorkers like Antonio Williams. Intro. 586, sponsored by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Councilmember Alexa Aviles, would require the NYPD to provide data on all stops.
Councilmember Crystal Hudson is sponsoring a second measure, Intro. 538, which would build on the 2017 Right to Know Act. A provision of that law requires police, absent other legal justification, to ask for people’s consent to a search, and to let them know that they have the right to refuse. Intro. 538 would allow residents to see if the NYPD is abiding by the Right to Know Act and provide a fuller picture of its use of consent searches.
These bills encompass basic transparency measures that are both simple and doable. In fact, Judge Ariel Belen, the facilitator for the remedies process, wrote in his final report that this kind of reporting creates virtually no additional burden on officers. In the age of smartphones, reports like these could be accomplished in a matter of seconds.
This common sense, good government legislation is supported by a majority of the city council and is a natural and simple next step to a safer New York. The Speaker and the City Council must pass this critical legislation and Mayor Adams must sign it into law without delay. New Yorkers need the HMSA as we continue to transform our city into a city that is safe, dignified, and equitable for all of us.
By Loyda Colon and Vince Warren.
Vincent Warren (he/him) is the Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which brought the case on behalf of New Yorkers who had been unconstitutionally stopped and frisked by the NYPD.
Loyda Colón (they/them) is the Executive Director of the Justice Committee, a grassroots organization that spearheaded Daniels v. City of New York – the class action stop-and-frisk lawsuit that preceded Floyd – with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and was part of the advisory committee for the Floyd Joint Remedies Process.