If the NYPD routinely stopped and frisked rich, white billionaires who have amassed tremendous wealth while Main Street suffered the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression, Mayor Bloomberg might be singing a different tune. But that's right, intense greed isn't a crime; being black or brown in New York City definitely can be.
In a brazen press conference on Monday, Bloomberg delivered a harsh rejection of federal district court judge Scheindlin's decision to rule that the NYPD's practice of 'stop-and-frisk' violated the constitutional rights of people, as well as her conclusion that broad reforms (including the establishment of an independent monitor) must be implemented. Snapping at reporters, and at times blatantly cutting them off, the mayor was in true form. Angrily admonishing the judge, civil rights groups and the media, he showed New Yorkers -- and the world -- what happens when someone dares to challenge a man who has governed with a virtual iron fist and believes that nobody can ever tell him no.
Well Mr. Mayor, those days are over. For years, minorities of this great city have complained, rallied, organized, petitioned and championed for change against the policing tactics of the NYPD. Whether it's profiling, surveillance, unfairly stopping and frisking, harassing or just plain disrespect, the number of complaints and lawsuits against the NYPD should have warranted reform much earlier.
According to Comptroller John Liu's office, the number of new Police Action claims rose 22 percent in 2012, and nearly doubled in the past five fiscal years -- rising 94 percent. As his office highlights, Police Action claims result from alleged improper police conduct including false arrest or imprisonment, shooting of a suspect, excessive force or assault, etc. Settlements and judgments paid by the city resulting from claims against the police were $151.9 million in 2012 alone according to the Comptroller's office.
The amount of taxpayer money spent on these incidents is enough to make anyone's head spin. It's simply out of control. And it might be time for the Mayor and Police Commissioner Kelly to accept the reality that police officers need to be retrained and an outside monitor must be established.
During Monday's press conference, Bloomberg continuously touted the fact that most crime is committed in black, Latino and 'low-income' neighborhoods. I suggest he and others try spending time in some of these communities and see just how long it takes for the police to arrive when someone calls for help. Why is it that concerned residents don't receive the same amount of protection and attention from authorities as those that live in wealthier neighborhoods? Why does it take so long for an ambulance to arrive in an emergency? And why do their needs fall on deaf ears?
If Bloomberg and Kelly truly cared about the safety and security of all New Yorkers, they would work with grassroots organizations on the ground in the toughest parts of the city that are striving every day to better their environments. They would put money into programs that would provide for more after-school programs, community centers and other organizations that help keep kids off of the street. And they would allocate more funding for school improvements, job training centers and job creation mechanisms instead of building more prisons and putting a virtual army of police canvassing entire neighborhoods.
Bloomberg loves to emphasize the notion that crime in NYC has fallen tremendously, which it has. But let's not pretend that it's because of 'stop-and-frisk'. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, New Yorkers have been subject to stops and street interrogations more than four million times since 2002, and nearly nine out of 10 stopped and frisked have been completely innocent. Further, the NYCLU states that in 2002 there were 1,892 victims of gunfire and 97,296 stops; in 2011 there were still 1,821 victims of gunfire and a record 685,724 stops.
The number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire population of young black men in the city. According to the NYCLU, a weapon was only found in 1.8 percent of blacks and Latinos who were frisked, meanwhile a weapon was found in 3.8 percent of whites who were frisked. Why is there not more emphasis placed on this crucial detail? If 'stop-and-frisk' truly eliminated or reduced crime and violence, people in the communities that the mayor looks down upon would be the first to welcome it with open arms.
Instead of criminalizing people -- mostly young black and Latino men -- we need police officers that actually live in the communities they serve. We need cooperation between law enforcement and residents. The current practice of 'stop-and-frisk' only drives a wedge between different groups as if we're not the most diverse city that should serve as the definition of a melting pot.
In the years that Bloomberg has been in office, minorities have found themselves pushed further and further out to the boroughs and outskirts of the city, leaving the island of Manhattan (especially below 96th Street) primarily for a certain segment of the population. Not only has that greatly diminished the culture of the city, but it has established a divide so transparent that everyone should be alarmed.
Recently, Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the Community Safety Act -- comprised of two bills designed to curb the NYPD's relentless pattern of racial profiling. Approved by the City Council earlier this summer, the Act calls for an independent Inspector to oversee the NYPD, as well as an expansion of the definition of profiling. It was hailed as a long overdue achievement by many who fully understand the depths of police harassment and overreach. Mayor Bloomberg on the other hand, not only denounced the Act, but added insult to the systemic policing problem with his outrageous claims that not enough people of color were stopped by cops. He promised to push back against the Act, and several Council members have stated that they have received pressure from police precincts and others to change their vote.
It's easy to sit and dismiss the grievances of people when you have no concept of what it feels like to be stopped and harassed countless times for simply walking down the street, or on your way to work or school. Before the mayor and police commissioner condescendingly ignore the will of the people, perhaps they should keep in mind that they are here to serve us and not their own interests.
Bloomberg stated on Monday that throughout the case under Judge Scheindlin's supervision, he didn't believe that they were getting a fair trial. Guess now he knows how millions of New Yorkers have been feeling for far too long.
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