‘Stop and frisk’: Have cops unfairly targeted black men?

A federal judge ruled that New York City's “stop and frisk” policy was being applied in a racist and unconstitutional way.

Young black and Hispanic men in New York City just won a major legal victory, said Andrew Cohen in TheAtlantic.com, and you should cheer it “even if you are white and live a thousand miles from the Empire State Building.” Last week, federal Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the New York Police Department’s “stop and frisk” policy was being applied in a racist and unconstitutional way. Under the policy, cops could stop and search anyone they reasonably suspected of criminal activity. In practice, 87 percent of the 4.4 million people stopped over the last decade have been black or Hispanic, in a city where these groups make up roughly half of the population. Police have been stopping people for such transparently bogus reasons as “furtive movements,” and releasing 90 percent without any charges—so it’s obvious, the judge found, that police are simply targeting young minorities for humiliating body searches. A furious New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg promptly vowed to appeal the ruling, said Newsday in an editorial, calling it an “ideologically driven” decision that would be “a disaster for the city.” But Bloomberg leaves office in December. It’s up to the next mayor, and the NYPD, to figure out how to protect citizens from crime “without launching attacks on their personal dignity.”

This ruling is “political correctness run amok,” said the New York Post. Cops search so many young black men in low-income neighborhoods because that’s where the crime is; blacks commit 66 percent of the city’s violent crimes and 77 percent of shootings. If “stop and frisk” is neutered—Scheindlin has appointed a federal monitor to oversee the policy’s reform—it would be a tragedy for the people the notoriously liberal judge thinks she’s trying to protect, since blacks and Hispanics are most likely to be victims of violent crime. “Stop and frisk” has been “one of the most successful anti-crime strategies of modern times,” said Terry Eastland in WeeklyStandard.com, taking 8,000 guns and 80,000 knives, box cutters, and other weapons off the streets. The policy has also discouraged young men from carrying weapons for fear of being sent to jail. As a direct result, New York has been transformed from an international symbol of crime and urban decay to “what is now the nation’s safest big city.”

Actually, said Alex Pareene in Salon.com, the crime rate in New York “absolutely plummeted” between 1991 and 2001, two years before the current “stop and frisk” policy took effect. But to focus on statistics is to miss the point. Even if racial profiling could be shown to be an effective way to police high-crime areas, it would still be illegal. The 14th Amendment prohibits the state from discriminating against particular racial groups—let alone systematically hunting, “humiliating, and alienating young people of color.”

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We should mend “stop and frisk,” not end it, said Michael Daly in TheDailyBeast.com. There’s no question that the policy has been abused, but it’s also saved thousands of people from muggings and murder. Judge Scheindlin made a very useful suggestion for salvaging the program, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune—requiring some New York cops to wear tiny video “body cameras.” If cops are being as “reasonable and nondiscriminatory” as they claim, the cameras will prove it; if not, the cameras will encourage better behavior. If Mayor Bloomberg “is afraid to equip police with body cameras, they’re not the problem. He is.”

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