Soon, Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin will issue a ruling in the high-profile federal lawsuit regarding the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk practices. After years of failing to meaningfully reform this broken policy, City Hall now faces the prospect of federal intervention and monitoring to mend stop-and-frisk.
Of all the case's twists, the most disturbing is Mayor Bloomberg and his administration's public campaign to stain the integrity of Judge Scheindlin ahead of her ruling. The goal of this campaign is clear: to shoot the messenger rather than deal with the expected message that stop-and-frisk, an important and lawful policing tactic when applied appropriately, has been misused and abused in this city.
In April, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly claimed in the pages of the Wall Street Journal that Judge Scheindlin was in the corner of civil rights lawyers, a claim for which he offered no supporting evidence. Earlier this month, the Bloomberg Administration "leaked" a memo to the New York Daily News that attempted to show bias against the NYPD in Judge Scheindlin's rulings. The 'study' cited only the frequency of her written rulings against the NYPD -- a meaningless exercise, since it failed to analyze the merits of each case or include her countless oral rulings from the bench.
Simply put, the leaked memo is an unambiguous ploy to discredit this judge if she rules against the city and the NYPD in the stop-and-frisk trial.
This attack on the judiciary signals a disturbing new track by the mayor and his team as they continue to cling to the notion that stop-and-frisk in its current form is being applied appropriately. The city is well within its rights to mount a vigorous legal defense on the merits, but for the mayor and his team to personally attack a judge disrespects not only the judiciary but also the appropriate separation of powers. At worst, the Bloomberg Administration's tactics could be seen as an attempt to intimidate or influence a judge's ruling. At best, these are feeble acts of deflecting responsibility, rather than accepting it and reforming unconstitutional practices.
Perhaps, in light of the evidence, this approach is the one that the administration deems best to preserve its dubious assertion that the current stop-and-frisk regime is necessary. After all, in 2011 and 2012, more than 88 percent of all stops failed to produce a gun, contraband or arrest. Put another way, 88 percent of New Yorkers stopped in 2011 and 2012 were innocent. Over 2011 and 2012, approximately 85 percent of the people stopped were African-American or Latino. And while in 2003 the NYPD had to stop 266 New Yorkers for every gun confiscated, by 2011 that number peaked to an astonishing 879 New Yorkers stopped just to recover a single gun. And while the Administration claims high levels of stop-and-frisk are necessary to crime under control, crime rates have actually fallen as the number of stops has also fallen.
All New Yorkers have much to celebrate over the unprecedented reduction in crime over the past 20 years. And fighting crime and catching the bad guys remains an urgent priority. But we can praise the police, the prosecutors, the judiciary and all the citizens who have contributed to public safety without blindly accepting the incorrect and counterproductive notion that the current misuse of stop-and-frisk is a necessary evil to be tolerated in that mission.
The test of true leadership is not how you accept praise, but how you handle criticism. When challenged, you can either make your case on the merits and allow quality of your analysis to win the day, or you can resort to bully tactics and smears to undermine the credibility of those with whom you disagree -- and whom are likely to be right when you are wrong.
Sadly, in the stop-and-frisk case, the Bloomberg team appears to favor the latter. And this is a bad sign for New Yorkers looking for the City to address some of the very serious problems before us all.
Bill de Blasio is Public Advocate for the City of New York
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