Jumaane D. Williams
The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals removed Shira A. Scheindlin, the federal judge in Floyd v. New York, and stayed the lower court’s ruling which would have required a series of reforms to the NYPD’s controversial practice known as Stop and Frisk, including the appointment of a federal monitor.
The stay was not based on the specific reforms ordered by the lower court, or the merits of the case in Floyd, but on the conduct of the presiding judge in the case.
In this country, being right on an issue has never meant an easy win. The stay by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals today has absolutely nothing to do with the positive reforms ordered in the lower court’s ruling or the merits of the case in Floyd v. New York, including the appointment of a federal monitor to end the abuse of Stop and Frisk by the New York Policy Department (NYPD). Instead, this stay has everything to do with an individual judge’s own conduct, and even that is questionable. When the merits of the case were heard by the lower court, we won. While this stay is frustrating, when the court hears the merits of the case again, there is no doubt that we will win again.
With this stay, however, the people of New York City continue to be put into a state of confusion over the status of Stop and Frisk, and whether the approach used by the NYPD, which has led to hundreds of thousands of innocent New York City residents being unconstitutionally stopped and frisked, will continue. The people of New York City must have full confidence that their constitutional rights will not be violated under Stop and Frisk. Even with this stay, the Community Safety Act, of which I was a lead sponsor, will soon be enacted and will help protect New York City residents against the violation of their basic civil right and liberties. It will establish an independent inspector general to oversee the use of Stop and Frisk and enable residents to have violations of Stop and Frisk heard in a court of law. Protecting the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers is what the two-year fight to pass the Community Safety Act (CSA) was all about.
It is disheartening that opponents of reforming Stop and Frisk, including opponents of the Community Safety Act, continue to hold the people of New York City in a state of confusion. The chilling effect on the brave members of the NYPD that the City’s attorney spoke about in this case is being caused by the City’s and police union’s continued suits and deliberate misinformation still being purposefully fed to union members, information that cannot be supported by the judge’s orders or the language in the CSA.
Just two days ago, Commissioner Kelly was unable to deliver a speech to students at Brown University. Students protested the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) abuse of Stop and Frisk, and the bias-based profiling that the department’s approach leads to. The damage being done to the image and brand of the Mayor, the Commissioner and New York City by refusing to even acknowledge that these practices lead to profiling is only getting worse. What’s more is that the Mayor and Police Commissioner are lessening the chance of leaving behind a legacy that remembers many of their positive accomplishments by continuing to oppose these reasonable reforms, and holding the people of New York in a perpetual state of confusion.
This stay represents yet another chapter in the long, historic struggle for civil rights in this nation, and no rights have been won overnight. Instead of continuing to fight to protect a practice which has violated the civil liberties of hundreds of thousands of New York City residents, many of them black and Latino, the Mayor, along with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association’s (PBA) and the Sergeant Benevolent Association’s (SBA) join me in moving the conversation of safer streets and better policing forward by dropping these lawsuits and unifying New York City. No matter how long this fight lasts, it is a fight worth winning, and a fight that we will win.
American history is replete with instances where well-meaning individuals ended up on the wrong side of a civil rights issue. I am prayerful that this administration and the respective union leaders will at long last, to paraphrase Dr. King, acknowledge that “the moral arc of our City is bending toward justice.”
Jumaane D. Williams is a Democratic member of the New York City Council, representing the 45th Council District which includes parts of Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands, and Canarsie in Brooklyn