Recent gun violence in New York City combined with national attention on the Aurora, CO, movie theater shooting, has led several local elected officials -- such Bronx assemblyman Eric Stevenson and State Senator Ruben Diaz -- to announce their support for more aggressive policing measures such as stop and frisk despite the mountains of evidence suggesting that there is no positive correlation between stop and frisk and the reduction of violent crimes. Why is the only choice given to communities one between violent crime and violent, racist policing?
While some people suggest that stop and frisk is no big deal, or at worst "humiliating," I wonder how exactly, Mr. Stevenson, Mr. Diaz, this (see video below) is going to help us keep our communities safe?
While the NYPD was stopping and frisking a record 685,724 people last year, 1,821 people were victims of gunfire, according to NYPD and city statistics. That's virtually the same number as in 2002, Bloomberg's first year in office, when 1,892 people were shot, but just 97,296 people were frisked.
Recent reports by the Center for Constitutional Rights, WNYC's Marketplace, and Justice for All outline the ways that aggressive policing and incarceration actually may increase criminogenic factors rather than providing the safety that communities demand.
The incarceration epidemic in the United States (we jail more people, for longer amounts of time than any other nation on the planet), matched with politicians -- from Nixon to Clinton to Obama -- jousting over who can appear toughest on crime, is a national disgrace. Yet still, when there is violence in the community we are offered only harsher policing and harsher sentencing -- two things that have not proven to be effective in reducing crime.
The racial disparities that plague this so-called criminal justice system -- from police interactions, to arrest, through the courts to sentencing and parole -- are well-documented, but briefly: one out of three African American males, one out of six Latino males and one out of 17 Caucasian males will go to prison during their lifetimes. Women represent the fastest growing prison population. If this is the end result, how is the aggressive, racist policing that engenders these statistics possibly a "solution" that community leaders, elected or otherwise, can get behind?
Only 20 percent of arrests in the United States are for serious crimes such as assault, rape, larceny or homicide, while millions of people are arrested each year for victimless incidents such as drug possession, curfew violations, gambling, vagrancy and public drunkenness. As a result of these preemptive policing strategies, young people are frequently arrested and put through the system for simply walking to the store or sitting on their stoops.
Each year more than 200,000 people are sent to prison for parole or probation infractions, half of those for technical violations. In New York City the most common arrest is for possession of amounts of marijuana so small that they do not actually constitute a crime. The New York Civil Liberties Union has to sue the NYPD in an effort to prevent police officers from arresting people for trespassing within their own homes. What the hell are we doing?