A federal judge has ruled that New York City's stop and frisk practices were unconstitutional and amounted to an "indirect policy of racial profiling."
The decision is a significant step toward racial fairness in a city where black and Latino males have been targeted for years through invasive, humiliating and discriminatory tactics that have basically amounted to a modern-day Jim Crow system of policing.
Judge Shira Scheindlin said there was no question that the New York Police Department (NYPD) operated in a biased way toward blacks and Latinos in New York City. According to the New York Times, she said in her ruling: Officers routinely "stopped blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white."
Between 2002 and 2011, black and Latino New Yorkers made up nearly 90 percent of those stopped, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is wildly out of proportion with the percentages of blacks and Latinos in New York City. Even in predominantly white communities, like Park Slope, where African-Americans and Latinos are 24 percent of the population, they comprised 79 percent of the stops.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly claim these policies are needed to reduce crime. But Bloomberg can cite no evidence to show that the policies reduce crime. Homicides were down in the first six months of this year when compared to last year even though the NYPD only carried out half as many stops and frisks in the first three months of 2013 when compared to the same period in 2012, the New York Times reported. Furthermore, many large cities have experienced larger drops in violent crime than New York City without relying on stops and frisks. The facts simply do not support Bloomberg's claims of a correlation between public safety and stops and frisks.
In fact, Bloomberg's arguments make no sense at all. If we found out that tall men were disproportionately responsible for committing violent crimes in New York City, would Bloomberg suggest subjecting all tall men to invasive stops and searches? Would humiliating all tall men, angering and alienating them, make us safer? Clearly it would not.
We all know that a very small number of people are responsible for committing violent crimes in New York City. And because the majority of those suspected and arrested for violent crimes happen to be black and Latino, that fact should not give license to Bloomberg to demean and humiliate young black and Latino males.
But in Bloomberg's world, you hold entire races and nationalities -- who are innocent of any crime -- responsible for the actions of a few. And that is the real tactic here to punish black and Latino men, including the 90 percent who are innocent of any offense. The methodology is intended to instill fear and anxiety and send a message that the NYPD not only rules the streets of New York but its officers rule our personal space and bodies as well. The message is that they can and will search our pockets and pat us down whenever they want to whether we like it or not. These policies takes us back to the past, to the logic of the Dred Scott Decision in 1857 when federal judge Roger B. Taney ruled that blacks "had no rights which white men were bound to respect."
Bloomberg is a softer, modern day version of Bull Connor, an Alabama police commissioner who had fire hoses turned on African Americans as they protested for racial equality. Bloomberg's NYPD hasn't used hoses, but instead armed police officers, to carry out means of keeping the order. Sometimes, in fact, the victims of stops and frisks are not only patted down without their permission but they are cursed at, have guns pointed at them or have their pants pulled down in public.
Instead of threatening to appeal the ruling, Bloomberg should try to make sense of the decision and do his best to ensure policy changes are on their way to being properly implemented before he leaves office. He could start by holding a public forum with New Yorkers who have been victimized by stop and frisk policies including those who have fought against them, like Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of organizations that fought successfully for passage of legislation to prohibit racial profiling. The public, and perhaps even Bloomberg, would then see that his arguments could not withstand public scrutiny.
As a Jewish man you would think Bloomberg, given the incredible amount of discrimination Jews have experienced in the last century because of their identity, would want to side with the opponents of discrimination and bias and not fight to make racism more entrenched.