06/28/2011 04:17 pm ET | Updated Aug 28, 2011

NYPD's Horrible Stop-and-Frisk Policy Harkens Back to Jim Crow Era

It's a shame that the New York Police Department continues its unconstitutional targeting of Black and Latino New Yorkers despite years of demands that this dehumanization end.

Earlier this month, the family of a 14-year-old boy, Devin Almonor, alleged in a federal lawsuit that their son was stopped and frisked on a Harlem street and then handcuffed in a police precinct for six hours because he was Black. And if treating an innocent then-13-year-old boy like a criminal wasn't enough of an outrage, officers then allegedly teased him for crying.

The teen told the New York Daily News: "I thought cops were out here to protect us. But they racially profile. They are prejudiced. I don't know what to believe anymore."

Ironically, Devin's father is a retired New York City cop. When he and his wife showed up at the 30th Precinct stationhouse demanding answers, they were thrown to the ground, handcuffed and beaten, they say.

This story could make one wonder whether we're talking about Mississippi in 1950 -- or the nation's largest city in 2011. Go figure.

The NYPD claims that Devin was searched because he reached toward his waistband. The story is ridiculous. The idea that a 13-year-old African American boy on his way home from school would gesture around his waistband as if he had a weapon in the faces of officers makes no sense. And if Devin was adjusting his belt, or reaching into his pocket, are we supposed to accept that such behavior is now illegal?

Despite more than a decade of criticism, this year the NYPD actually increased the number of stops and searches it engages in. In the first quarter of 2011, more than 183,000 people were stopped, higher than for any quarter since the city began publicly releasing data in 2004, according to the Wall Street Journal.

African Americans, although 23 percent of the city's population, were 53 percent of those detained and searched. Only 9.2 percent of those stopped were White even though Whites are the city's large racial group, comprising 33 percent of the population.

The New York Civil Liberties Union says that more that two million New Yorkers were stopped, searched and interrogated between 2004 and 2010. Nearly 90 percent of them had committed no crimes.

One day, historians will write about this shameful period in American history where "public safety" was used as a rationale to violate Constitutional rights and to discriminate against massive numbers of people of color.

It will go down as another Jim Crow-like period of shame, where the state discriminates against people of color with impunity. Civil rights advocate and litigator Michelle Alexander analyzes the institutional racism and inequity that's part of our criminal justice system in her excellent recent work, "The New Jim Crow."

Wrote Alexander: "Since the nation's founding, African Americans repeatedly have been controlled through institutions such as slavery and Jim Crow, which appear to die, but then are reborn in a new form, tailored to the needs and constraints of the time."

Alexander's right. We must take a stand and end racial profiling now.