A march earlier this month against the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy, led by community leaders and Princeton University professor and activist Cornel West. Photograph: Scott Houston/Corbis
The police department's policy amounts to racial profiling and the illegal harassment of thousands of New Yorkers a day.
Last week, the New York Police Department released quarterly data on its stop-and-frisk program. The numbers are worse than ever, and they confirm everything that is wrong with this practice.
From January through March 2012, 203,500 New Yorkers were stopped and frisked. That's an average of 2,200 people per day. Twenty-two hundred people a day, many of whom are stopped for no reason – or the wrong reason, like the color of their skin, or their age, or their gender expression – patted down, sometimes roughed-up, intimidated, asked for ID in their own neighborhood, sometimes in their own buildings, asked to empty their pockets. Twenty-two hundred people a day stopped by police as they walk down the street on their way home, to school, the corner deli, or to see friends. Twenty-two hundred people a day asked to justify their presence in the city in which they live.
This is already an outrage; but if you look further at the numbers, it's even more outrageous. Despite years of public outcry and lawsuits, theNYPD is stopping even more people than in previous years. In 2011, the department stopped a record 685,724 New Yorkers, a 600% increase since Raymond Kelly took over as police commissioner in 2002. But the 2012 numbers are on track to be still worse. At the rate it's going, the NYPD will stop nearly three-quarters of a million New Yorkers in 2012.
Eight-seven per cent of the people stopped by the NYPD in the first quarter of 2012 were black or Latino, while only 54% of the city's population is black or Latino. Despite claims to the contrary, the data show that even when you take other factors into consideration – including crime rates –stops are disproportionately concentrated in black and Latino neighborhoods. And in all neighborhoods, blacks and Latinos are significantly more likely to be stopped than whites. The data also show that NYPD officers use physical force more often when stopping blacks and Latinos.
Stop-and-frisk, as practiced by the NYPD, amounts to racial profiling, which is illegal. It violates the 14th amendment of the US constitution, which prohibits racial discrimination, and the fourth amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Stop-and-frisk also fails to make New Yorkers safer. There is an implied trade-off that New Yorkers are told to accept: OK, so the practice is intrusive and humiliating and it violates your rights, but it's necessary to fight crime. That is a lie. The vast majority of stop-and-frisks – 90%, in the first quarter of 2012 – do not uncover evidence of a crime. Less than 1% lead to recovery of guns, the supposed goal of the stop-and-frisk program.
The NYPD is not catching criminals; they are stopping and humiliating thousands of New Yorkers a day who have done nothing wrong.
There is no evidence that stop-and-frisk is responsible for the city's drop in crime rate in recent years. On the contrary, New Yorkers feel less safe and often have their lives upended by unlawful stops. Many communities, especially communities of color, feel that they are under siege. To them, the presence of police on the streets signals not protection against crime, but a danger of becoming the victims of a crime: being illegally stopped, harassed, possibly beat up.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is suing New York City to end these gross violations of hundreds, or thousands, of people's rights. Occupying entire neighborhoods and treating vast portions of the city's citizenry as suspects violates the US constitution and fundamental human rights.