Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Kelly still defend discredited policy
Floyd v. City of New York continues a clearer picture is emerging of the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk program: one where Blacks and Latinos are targeted as the “right people” to be singled out as criminal suspects.
The question must now be asked: is Stop-and-Frisk anything more than a self-fulfilling means to criminalize minority communities while impoverishing them and violating their Fourteenth Amendment rights at the same time?
Last week, the federal trial against Stop-and-Frisk resumed as the Center for Constitutional Rights proceeds with its case, arguing that this controversial NYPD policy amounts to the wholesale racial profiling of minority communities.
Some now infamous tape recordings provided by two NYPD officers have become explosive pieces of evidence in this important trial that may lead to the dismantling and ending of the practice of Stop-and-Frisk. Recorded by Officer Pedro Serrano and Officer Adhyl Polanco, the recordings contain portions where NYPD brass are heard telling beat-officers about the number of arrests and tickets that are expected from officers. In other words the arrest numbers are pre-determined before the crimes.
On a recording provided by Officer Serrano, Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack is, allegedly, heard telling Officer Serrano—who was apparently being reprimanded for obtaining too few summonses and arrests—that he must make more stops of “the right people at the right time, the right location.” On another recording, Officer Polanco was, allegedly, told the NYPD expected cops to write twenty summonses and collar one arrest per month.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is representing plaintiffs David Floyd, Lalit Clarkson, David Ourlicht and Deon Dennis. According to the Center, the federal class action lawsuit is being filed against the NYPD and the City of New York to challenge the “NYPD’s practices of racial profiling and unconstitutional stop-and frisks. These NYPD practices have led to a dramatic increase in the number of suspicion-less stop-and-frisks per year in the city, with the majority of stops in communities of color.
Last December, the Center for Constitutional Rights released a damning report after analyzing NYPD Stop-and-Frisk data collected from January 2010 through June 2012. Among other things, the report found the NYPD was guilty of engaging in “race-based” stops “in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause because Blacks and Latinos were “significantly more likely to be stopped than Whites.” Blacks were stopped 84 percent of the time “a far higher percentage than their proportion of the city’s population.”
The report also said the NYPD was in violation of the Fourth Amendment by engaging in “unjustified stops” and “unreasonable search and seizure.” The Center said “95,000 stops lacked reasonable, articulable suspicion” and used “highly subjective and constitutionally questionable categories” such as a suspect’s, supposed, “furtive movements” or the suspect’s proximity to a “high crime area.”
The report found that “high crime area” was used as a justification in “more than 60 percent of the stops” and that “furtive movements” was used in “53 percent of them,” whatever “furtive” is supposed to mean. The Center also found that, in this two year period “only 6 percent of stops result in arrest, an extraordinarily small number given that stops are legally supposed to be based on reasonable, articulable suspicion. The rates of seizure of weapons or contraband are miniscule—.12% of stops yield gun seizures and 1.8% contraband—and are lower than the seizure rates of random stops.”
For years, NYPD police propaganda stated that the department targeted crime based on the supposed crime statistics in a given area. However, the facts regarding Stop-and-Frisk are another illustration of this big lie. For example, we know Blacks and Latinos are being disproportionately singled out for marijuana arrests—a situation which has led to New York City being called “the marijuana arrest capitol of the world.”
Yet, study after study shows Whites use marijuana at higher rates than Blacks or Latinos. So, the NYPD should explain why Blacks and Latinos are the primary ones single out for marijuana arrests? Are they telling us no one on Park Avenue, or Wall Street, is smoking marijuana? Keep in mind: Since 1977, the penalty for possession of 25 grams or under of marijuana was reduced to a ticket of no more than $100—as long as the marijuana wasn’t found in public view. Currently, officers trick unsuspecting Blacks and Latinos into emptying their pockets, or, otherwise showing the marijuana they have in their possession. When this is done, the police then make a “in plain sight” arrest. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed decriminalizing this “in plain sight” provision.
Now, as was said on the recording, NYPD beat-officers (those who patrol the streets) are expected to arrest the “right people.” Whites on Wall Street and in affluent communities in New York City don’t fit that bill. But communities of color are being scapegoated in this purely racist policing policy. But these prejudiced policies can be seen in other police practices, besides who they decide to arrest for drugs. The same data from the NYPD shows that although they were stopped at a much more miniscule rate, Whites were found more times not only with drugs—but with guns as well. So, why isn’t the NYPD actively seeking out more Whites to arrest, since, that should be the logical conclusion given the statistics?
Let’s not fool ourselves, the reality is: practices like Stop-and-Frisk are primarily tools to further victimize, criminalize and marginalize Black and Latino communities. Yes, the crime rate in Black and Latino communities are relatively high—especially ones where poverty breeds desperation from hunger and need. But isn’t there also crime in affluent White communities as well? And the master thieves of Wall Street perpetrated the biggest case of grand larceny in human history. If the NYPD cares about crime why aren’t they making arrests in the “high crime area” of Wall Street?
Ironically, the NYPD is itself contributing to the economic exploitation that is the major driving force behind crime in Black and Latino communities. Poverty in minority communities is well documented. So why is the NYPD ticketing so many poor people for frivolous things — like ticketing homeless people for “loitering”? It’s an immoral outrage that cash-strapped communities should be manipulated in this way.
In a curious development, the NYPD has just promoted Philip Banks, an African American officer, to Chief of Department. Banks, not surprisingly, favors Stop-and-Frisk and is against the proposal to create a position of Inspector General over the NYPD. This is a token appointment to endorse the racist Stop-and-Frisk policies. Is Officer Banks supposed to represent some form of accountability to minority communities because he is Black?
In a sickening side story, we’re told Officer Banks—presumably, unlike other Blacks and Latinos—was raised right. Banks’ father, a former officer, talked about teaching his son not to wear “trendy clothes” because that may have given the police a reason to stop him. I guess wearing trendy clothes causes suspicion if you aren’t White.
This cynical attempt to use Officer Banks as a character witness for Stop-and-Frisk underscores the need for people to continue demanding real democratic accountability. We now have none. An inspector general appointment maybe a first step but isn’t going to be nearly enough. Those making NYPD policy have no real concern for Blacks or Latinos. Shouldn’t minority communities have the most say about how their communities are policed?
Action must be demanded from our elected officials to change prejudiced NYPD policies in Black and Brown communities—removing them from office if they don’t comply. We must overwhelm the offices of political appointees with calls, e-mail messages and letters demanding for comprehensive review and reform of the NYPD.
Every one of the mayoral candidates must let voters know where they each stand. The harassment, criminalization and unlawful killings of Blacks and Latinos must stop.