New York City passed a dubious civil rights milestone Thursday, March 14. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York Police Department recorded its five millionth stop-and-frisk search since statistics started being compiled in 2002.
Of those five million, 86 percent searched were black or Latino. 88 percent of the searches, or 4.4 million, discovered absolutely no evidence of impropriety.
These statistics are, of course, disturbing. Particularly so, says Jen Carnig, director of communications for the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), because the numbers show no real sign of abating under the leadership of New York’s three-term mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
“In 2002, Bloomberg’s first year in office, there were less than 100,000 of these stops,” Carnig tells TakePart. “By 2011, that number spiked to 685,724. Stop-and-frisk escalated 600 percent during the Bloomberg Administration.”
In the face of international criticism over the policy, stop-and-frisk searches did drop to 533,042 last year. Still, the NYPD and the Bloomberg administration have shown no inclination they intend to voluntarily suspend or even amend the program.
“I just don’t see that happening,” says Carnig, of the possibility of negotiating a civil end to the program.
“How much will the NYPD save if, instead of having police officers take the time to do a stop and frisk of innocent people, we direct those police officers to go after, like, the real criminals?”
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly—one of stop-and-frisk’s most ardent proponents—all but confirmed Carnig’s sentiment in a New York city council meeting earlier in the week.
During the meeting, Kelly was grilled by Washington Heights Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez: “How much will the NYPD save if, instead of having police officers take the time to do a stop and frisk of innocent people, we direct those police officers to go after, like, the real criminals?”
Kelly offered this in response: “Well, let me say this: New York is by far the safest big city in America. What we are doing here are tactics and strategies that are working. Something is going right here.”
According to a New York Times reporter at the meeting, Kelly was likely referring to New York’s historically low murder rate in 2012. Of course, murder rates were down in many major cities across America, even those that don’t rely on programs like stop-and-frisk. Los Angeles, for instance, has seen its murder rate drop for 10 straight years, without relying on a formalized, sanctioned policy of racial profiling.
There is hope for the civil liberty-minded and New York’s minority populations; on Monday a major legal case—Floyd vs. City of New York—will be heard before U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin.
Brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the case is a federal class action suit that charges the New York Police Department with leading a pattern-and-practice unconstitutional racial-profiling regime thanks to stop-and-frisk.
Legal cases like this one always have a mixed success rate, but advocates are hopeful about Floyd’s chances, because Judge Scheindlin previously ruled favorably in a similar case: Ligon v. City of New York.
In that case, the NYCLU charged that NYPD was stopping and profiling and detaining people illegally during Operation Clean Halls, in which cops entered and exited private apartment complexes in the Bronx.
Judge Scheindlin agreed with plaintiffs, and ruled the practice unconstitutional.
Judge Scheindlin’s remedy for Operation Clean Halls, however, will be tied into her findings in the upcoming Floyd case.
Since 9/11, America has been entwined in a constant pull between security and its civil liberties. Security, or the perception thereof, by-and-large has won out. Floyd offers the first true hope of a pushback.
“Everyone in NYC is on the edge, waiting to see what happens,” says Carnig.
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Matthew Fleischer is a former LA Weekly staff writer and an award-winning social justice reporter in Los Angeles. Email Matt