Huffpost New York
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Cyrus Vance Headshot

Community-Based Justice in New York

Posted: Updated:
Print

It is no secret that African-Americans and Latinos are stopped and frisked disproportionately by the police. This is a problem we have been working for years to address in New York City, but this past week a particular case brought questions about the criminal justice system to the forefront of american conversation.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a prominent African-American scholar and Harvard University professor, was arrested last week at his home by an officer who was reportedly investigating a possible break-in. Gates's story has shaken Americans and re-raised questions about our criminal justice system.

In a press conference last night directed at America's Health Care Crisis President Barack Obama answered one final question regarding Professor Gates's arrest.

"There's a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact." President Obama said. "Even when there are honest misunderstandings the fact that Blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently, and often times for no cause, casts suspicion even when there is good cause. That's why I think that the more we work with local law enforcement to improve policing techniques, so that we're eliminating potential bias, the safer everybody's going to be."

As President Obama has stated, this radical racial disparity in "Stop and Frisk" is undeniable. In an attempt to make our city safer, these practices actually make it more dangerous. This practice promotes mistrust and fear of police in communities where crime rates are highest - the same communities that would most strongly benefit from improved relationships with police.

According to the Civil Liberties Union, in 2007, the NYPD stopped about 469,000 New Yorkers, which equals about 1,300 people a day. Of these 469,000, 88 percent were not charged. African-Americans, who represent 25 percent of the City's population, represent over 50 percent of those stopped; 30 percent of those stopped were Latino. Non-Latino Whites, who make up about 35 percent of the city's population, only represent 11 percent of those stopped. In both 2006 and 2007 African Americans and Latinos made up over 90 percent of those stopped.

It is time for reform in New York. The vast majority in the police force do right by the people of New York every day, and for their service and sacrifice we are grateful. But police misconduct does exist, and even if only by a few it is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. The police must police the same way in all our communities, and with the same respect for the law and the residents.

The District Attorney's office must use all the means at its disposal to fix this flawed system. The NYPD recently began a pilot program in three precincts in which officers give an explanatory "palm card" to those they stop and frisk. The card serves to inform suspects why they're being stopped and of their rights. While the implementation of this system does not fix the problem it is a positive step in the right direction.

Under my model of Community Based Justice, which is the cornerstone of my vision for the DA's Office, prosecutors will be aligned more closely with the community. By assigning prosecutors to individual neighborhoods, the plan ensures that they will be able to respond more quickly to issues that arise in each community and better understand neighborhood residents and local dynamics. Local NYPD officers and ADA's will know their communities and will be less likely to view them in large racial strokes; they will be urged to prosecute crimes fairly, swiftly and accurately.

The Manhattan DA must work closely with the NYPD. No relationship is more important -- or more complex -- than the relationship between the DA's office and the NYPD. The two offices work closely together on thousands of cases, incidents and issues every year. Yet, the DA provides a critical oversight role for the public in regard to the NYPD. The DA prosecutes NYPD officers when they go over the line -- whenever they go over the line.

Through these reforms we can assure that New Yorkers are treated fairly on New York's streets and in its courtrooms. We will reduce the time and waste that result when we prosecute people unjustly. We will begin to reform peoples' opinions of NYPD Officers by holding them accountable to their communities. These are changes that can make a big difference. If elected I will ensure that these improvements are made and that they elicit change for the betterment of New Yorkers' safety. It's unfortunate that it takes high profile cases like Gates's to bring this issue to the forefront of the media, while it's happening everyday on the streets of New York. It is time to make sure that 100 percent of New York's defendants are treated fairly, swiftly and justly.