As a person of color who has lived in mostly Latino and black communities all my life, the sight of young men of color being routinely stopped by police on the streets is a fact of daily life. I was even stopped once when I was a teenager walking home from a movie with my boyfriend.
Over the years, I and countless other New Yorkers have heard far too many horror stories of young men of color being stopped, humiliated, embarrassed and disrespected for no good reason.
It was inspiring to watch a broad coalition of community groups across the city -- young and old -- marching in silence, and groups across the city encouraging our youth to come and speak out against the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy under Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The NYPD's own statistics show it has subjected us to this humiliation nearly 4.5 million times over the last decade. Nearly 90 percent of those stopped were black or Latino males and nearly 90 percent did not result in an arrest.
The anti-stop-and-frisk groups waged a relentless and widely supported campaign that included a silent march on Father's Day of 2012 attended by thousands of individuals including civil rights, faith, and labor leaders, as well as regular community member to show that New Yorkers refuse to let our children be victimized by racial profiling.
Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Sheindlin pulled no punches in ruling that the NYPD's stop-and-frisk tactics amounted to racial profiling. "Targeting racially defined groups for stops -- even when there is reasonable suspicion -- perpetuates the stubborn racial disparities in our criminal justice system," the judge wrote, though she stressed she was not ordering the end to stop-and-frisks, just an end to the unconstitutional way the NYPD does them.
Ruling in a case that featured black males who had been wrongly stopped - including a 13-year-old boy and several men in their 30s or older -- she said the policy of random stops violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and accused top city officials of turning a "blind eye," to the evils of that policy.
"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," she wrote.
She ordered the NYPD to review and reform their policies and, not trusting the ability of the police to police themselves, appointed an independent monitor -- a noted lawyer and former chief prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office -- to oversee the process.
Shortly before the ruling, in a statement that defied credibility, Mayor Bloomberg tried to claim that, rather than profiling blacks and Latinos, the NYPD may have over-stopped minorities, something the New York Daily News quickly disproved. Despite that, Bloomberg has vetoed a City Council bill that would create an inspector general to oversee the NYPD, as well as another to make it easier to sue cops for racial profiling.
All of us want safe communities, but we cannot resort to police-state tactics to get there. That's why the community coalition and its lawyers will closely monitor developments in the aftermath of this ruling to ensure that the overwhelming law-abiding young men in our communities are not routinely treated like criminals just for walking down the street.
Camille Rivera is executive director of UnitedNY.