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Yousef Abukhdair Headshot

Jim Crow in the North: Ending Stop and Frisk in NYC

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Michelle Alexander, author of the bestselling book, The New Jim Crow suggests that when minorities are disproportionately identified as "criminals, this allows the unleashing of a whole range of legal discrimination measures in employment, housing, education, public benefits, voting rights, jury duty, and so on." On June 11 the United States Justice Department filed a 21 page statement of interest assessing the state of New York city's stop-and-frisk law that has been administered for over a decade stating the Department of Justice's motive was "... to assist the court on the issue of remedy, and only should it find that NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices are unlawful." Instead of addressing the constitutionality of the law, the Department Of Justice recommended that an independent monitor be instituted to oversee any overreach or mistreatment of the law. The fact remains that stop-and-frisk, even with an independent monitor, fails to address the harm created by such policies. Stop-and-frisk is inherently meant to subject black and brown individuals, particularly young men to disproportionate scrutiny by law enforcement predicated on little to no probable cause aside from the color of their skin.

For those that are unfamiliar with stop-and-frisk, legally known as New York State Criminal Procedure Law section 140.50, the law gives agents of law enforcement the authority to search or pat down a person's outer clothing. This practice by the NYPD allows officers to use the claim of "reasonable suspicion" to stop and interrogate basically anyone walking down the street, if law enforcement feels the individual may have or is in the process of committing a crime. If the officer "reasonably suspects" that they are in danger of injury, they can then frisk the individual. Unfortunately the term "reasonable" is haphazardly used in order to allow law enforcement to arbitrarily stop and search nearly anyone. Proving harassment or discrimination eventually becomes the word of the officer versus that of the individual being frisked, which nearly always favors law enforcement. Furthermore allowing a phrase as vague as reasonable suspicion to validate what would otherwise be deemed harassment or racial profiling has given the NYPD legal autonomy to continue to harass minorities, conversely giving those who have been subjected to this law little legal recourse.

Advocates of stop-and-frisk have been very vocal in their support. New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg has been unwavering in his endorsement. Bloomberg also believes there have been few if any miscarriages of justice due to stop-and-frisk. Upon hearing of the Department of Justice's recommendation, Mr. Bloomberg said and independent monitor would be "a terrible idea." He further stated "it just makes no sense whatsoever when lives are on the line to change the rules and hamper the police department from doing their job. ... They comply with the law. We are 100 percent confident in that." Mr. Bloomberg's rationale is tantamount to "if it aint broke, don't fix it." Even if stop-and-frisk does reduce crime, which I am certainly not conceding, it's still implementing racial profiling of black and brown people in New York. Fortunately for Mr. Bloomberg he doesn't seem to be the right complexion to face the scrutiny of stop-and-frisk.

Mr. Bloomberg and other supporters of stop-and-frisk believe the law is both effective in preventing crime while not disproportionately targeting minorities, however a simple look at the facts and figures clearly states the fallacy in their logic. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, since 2002 there have been 4 million New Yorkers stopped (many of whom have been stopped on more than occasion), 90 percent of which were either Black or Latino. Of those 4 million that were subjected to stops, 3.8 million were guilty of no crime and were never charged. Minorities are also disproportionately targeted in areas of New York City that are predominantly white. Blacks and browns made up 79 percent of the stops initiated in Park Slope, while only accounting for 24 percent of the population. Advocates of stop-and-frisk like to point to the 29 percent reduction in crime in New York City from 2002 to 2010 to legitimize the efficacy of the law, however several municipalities including Los Angeles, Dallas, and New Orleans have seen significantly larger reduction in crime during that same period without implementing such an overreach to civil rights.

Much like SB 1070 in Arizona, stop-and-frisk is a free pass for any police officer in New York City to harass and mistreat minorities. To say all police officers in New York City take advantage of their power and persecute people of color would be absurd, but to say that none of them do like Mayor Bloomberg suggested is equally absurd. These laws and the push back from the city for transparency give credence to Ms. Alexander's argument that minorities are unfairly being targeted in order to advance underlying motives. Stop-and-frisk simply doesn't work; additionally it comes at the terribly high cost of marginalizing minorities and the youth. Consequently by maltreating these groups the police will see less and less cooperation from individuals and communities in fighting crime and continue to diminish the good will the city has strived fervently to produce amongst minority groups. More importantly black and brown youth of New York are growing up with a legitimate fear that may be stopped by the police simply because of the color of their skin. With an impending Mayoral election to take place in November, it's time for voters in the big apple to step up and make sure their next Mayor believes that all New Yorkers deserve to be able to walk down the street without being intimidated because of the pigmentation of their skin.