Imagine hearing police sirens and within seconds find yourself stopped, thrown against a wall, spread-eagled, and frisked, while your neighbors and family look on. Within minutes you are let go because the cops didn't find anything. For a split second you wonder why this happened, then remind yourself that you're a young, dark-skinned, hardworking father of two, who committed the 'crime' of wearing a hoodie.
New Yorkers were stopped by police nearly 700,000 times last year. Eighty-seven percent of those stopped were either Black or Latino. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, nine out of ten people stopped were innocent of any crime and 99.9 percent of the time, no gun was retrieved.
Supporters of stop-and-frisk present a false choice. They argue that New Yorkers only have two options: return to the days of impossibly high murder rates, or put up with police tactics that rely on racial profiling and civil rights violations. While it is factually correct that during this past decade there were 5,340 murders in New York, less than half the number of the previous ten years, a closer look reveals that the number of murders had already begun to decline in the 1990s, prior to the dramatic rise in stop-and-frisk.
The data also show that the number of stop-and-frisks increased by more than 600 percent from 2002 to 2011, yet at the same time murders decreased 12.3 percent. Through the first quarter of this year, the number of stop-and-frisks were not only higher than last year, they are on pace to set a record at 730,000. Yet robberies and overall crime in the City are climbing.
There is no way of knowing how many murders, if any, may have been prevented by stop-and-frisk -- but there doesn't seem to be a strong correlation between the two. In fact, many cities have experienced large declines in their murder rates without stop-and-frisk, by using methods such as "focused deterrence" and "problem-oriented policing."
And, there are some particularly severe consequences to stop-and-frisk, given that young Black and Latino men are disproportionately targets of this practice. One negative result is the atmosphere of distrust that builds between police officers and residents in minority neighborhoods. When a community member is suddenly questioned and physically searched, and then let go, the result is humiliation, fear, and oppression, not safer city streets. Stop-and-frisk deepens the chasm between communities of color and the police, which is antithetical to reinforcing relationships that are vital to maintaining a safe and secure city for all New Yorkers.
Civil rights violations are not only a serious social issue, but also a financial one. Claim settlements and judgments, including those involving civil rights actions, brought against the New York Police Department (NYPD) have risen from $74.1 million in Fiscal Year 2002 to $186.3 million in Fiscal Year 2011. Two public interest law groups have filed stop-and-frisk-related lawsuits seeking changes in police practices and a federal judge has already granted class action status to the plaintiffs in one of these cases. Given the high number of people impacted by stop-and-frisk, the City faces potentially significant exposure if additional suits are filed seeking monetary damages.
With its disastrous fallout and questionable payoff, it is time to abolish this divisive and ill-conceived tactic. Stop-and-frisk is racially biased, ineffective, and has created considerable costs for the city. It has also damaged neighborhood-police relations in New York City's communities of color, where strong bonds are necessary to help combat crime.
If we want to make our city safer, we must end stop-and-frisk.
I invite you to join me and thousands of other New Yorkers on Father's Day, June 17th, 2012 for the "End Stop-and-Frisk Silent March Against Racial Profiling." For more information, please visit www.silentmarchnyc.org. Together, we will stand up for civil rights and send a message that people of color, particularly young men, should not be afraid to walk the streets of their own City.