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“Planners strive to create urban places in order to draw people into the public realm for the enrichment of shared experience. In a city as diverse as New York, a program of harassment that discourages racial minorities from being out in public or in certain neighborhoods is directly at odds with this goal. Judge Scheindlen found that the NYPD’s stop and frisk program was exactly that: a program of racially profiling black and Latino males for humiliating stops and frisks. She rejected the city’s rationale for the racial disparity in the program — that the majority of persons suspected and arrested for crime are black and Latino males. The circularity of this approach is self-evident. It impoverishes everyone’s experience of the city.”
The NYPD and the City of New York maintain that the practice is necessary to reduce the threat of gun violence. However, in 4 million stops between 2004 and 1012, which overwhelmingly targeted young black and Hispanic men, in only .014 of random stops were guns found.
In ruling that the practice violates the Constitution, Judge Scheindlin wrote, “The City’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner…. In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution.”
How could the policy have gone on so long despite multiple lawsuits and widespread community protest? An excellent piece in Slate quotes the court record: “‘We own the block. They don’t own the block, all right? They might live there but we own the block. All right? We own the streets here. You tell them what to do,’ one lieutenant says (in the Schoolcraft tapes), exhorting his officers to enforce their will on the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant.”
The Streetsblog piece notes:
“Without suggesting that NYPD enforcement of traffic laws against cyclists is equivalent in any legal or political sense to the racial profiling and discrimination proven in Floyd, I’m not surprised that there are clear parallels between the two — since it is the same officers doing the policing. These parallels nicely illustrate the “community suspicion” principle underlying Judge Scheindlin’s finding of constitutional violations.
“In one seemingly race-neutral example of this “community suspicion” approach, an NYPD lieutenant was heard “instructing officers to stop anyone on a bike who is carrying a bag near an area where there have been car break-ins. ‘Those are good stops,’” the lieutenant asserted.
“Community suspicion” is not only unconstitutional, but has a chilling effect on community members’ willingness to venture out in public — a vital ingredient to the streets we all want…the stop and frisk program has mutated far beyond useful proportions. The force behind this mutation is the “numbers driven” approach, in which police performance is judged almost exclusively based on trendlines showing ever-diminishing incidence of serious “index” crimes, and ever-increasing incidence of “quality of life” and other lesser crimes. There likely is a baseline level of crime that even the safest big city can’t root out without becoming a police state, and we may well be approaching that point in New York. Judge Scheindlin found that despite the enormous pressure on police to “hit the numbers” on certain types of enforcement, there was no institutional pressure to follow the Constitution.
“One result of this numbers-driven approach is that policing of traffic violence and other types of crime have been neglected, and the approach taken by the few police tasked with enforcement in those areas is too often infected by the same contempt and disrespect seen in the stop and frisk context — not only for crime suspects, but also for crime victims. Judge Scheindlin’s proposed solution includes a pilot program in which officers would wear body cameras so that reliable evidence of their conduct would be available to assess. This remedial step and the appointment of an independent monitor are a measured and reasonable first step toward redirecting NYPD away from the toxic (and Quixotic) quest for infinitely-diminishing crime statistics, and toward a constitutional approach to dealing with violent street crime and a greater focus on other areas, including traffic violence.”
Read the full article here