Stop and Frisk: NYPD Racial Profiling
by Stephen Lendman
The Fourth Amendment states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
In other words, constitutional law requires reasonable suspicion that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed to justify stopping and frisking a suspect.
New York State Criminal Procedure Law, section 140.50, authorizes stop and frisk. It’s based on the 1968 Supreme Court’s Terry v. Ohio ruling.
Warren court justices held 8 – 1 that Fourth Amendment protections aren’t violated if police have reasonable suspicion to believe someone “may be armed and presently dangerous.”
Justice William Douglas strongly dissented. Absent probable cause he said:
“We hold today that the police have greater authority to make a ‘seizure’ and conduct a ‘search’ than a judge has to authorize such action. We have said precisely the opposite over and over again.”
“To give the police greater power than a magistrate is to take a long step down the totalitarian path. Perhaps such a step is desirable to cope with modern forms of lawlessness. But if it is taken, it should be the deliberate choice of the people through a constitutional amendment.”
Terry v. Ohio let authorities take full advantage. Stop and frisk is longstanding NYPD policy. More recently it escalated.
Black and Latino males are most vulnerable. They’re racially profiled. They’re disproportionately targeted. They comprise about 90%% of all stops. They’re unjustifiably considered potentially dangerous.
In 2002, NYPD made about 97,000 stops and frisks. In 2006, it was over 500,000. In 2011, it was around 685,000. In 2012, it was nearly 700,000.
The NYPD maintains a detailed database by precinct. It includes stops, frisks, use of force, and weapons recovered.
New York State’s ACLU said the following:
“The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices raise serious concerns over racial profiling, illegal stops and privacy rights.”
“The Department’s own reports on its stop-and-frisk activity confirm what many people in communities of color across the city have long known: The police are stopping hundreds of thousands of law abiding New Yorkers every year, and the vast majority are black and Latino.”
“An analysis by the NYCLU revealed that innocent New Yorkers have been subjected to police stops and street interrogations more than 4 million times since 2002, and that black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics.”
“Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports.”
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly claims stop and frisk is effective. “(Y)ou used to not be able to walk down the streets of this city safely, and today you can walk every neighborhood during the day and most neighborhoods at night,” he said.
No evidence proves stop and frisk effectiveness. Plenty shows otherwise. Violent crimes are widespread nationwide. Gun related violence is extreme.
Epidemic levels claim over 30,000 lives annually. Every gun related death leaves two others wounded. Every year, about 100,000 Americans are gun violence victims.
Easily obtained weapons make it possible. Stop and frisk abuses solve nothing. They violate constitutional rights. They’re eroding rapidly. They’re heading toward total elimination.
Stop and frisk is one of many abusive practices. They make it easier to introduce more. Sacrificing freedom for alleged safety assures losing both. America’s on a fast track toward tyranny.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) initiated a federal class action lawsuit against New York City. Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al. challenges “NYPD’s practices of racial profiling and unconstitutional stop-and frisks.”
CCR calls the class action New York’s “trial of the century.” It cuts to the very heart of discriminatory police practices. It’s “part of a larger citywide movement” to end them.
It’s longstanding. It gained traction after Amadou Diallo’s February 1999 murder. He was unarmed, unthreatening in his apartment building vestibule.
Police fired 41 times. They did so without cause. Nineteen bullets struck him. He never had a chance.
“No court case is more important to the future of New York City” than Floyd v. NYC, said CCR. It’s “about creating a police department….accountable to the people and communities it serves.”
“It’s about obtaining justice for” Diallo and countless others wrongfully stopped, frisked, mistreated, and sometimes grievously harmed.
“It’s about holding the NYPD accountable for years of unreasonable, suspicionless and racially discriminatory stops.”
CCR joined with community members, lawyers, researchers, and activists. They want discriminatory police practices stopped. Communities United for Police Reform is involved.
It calls stop and frisk, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s “broken windows,” and other discriminatory police practices abusive, unacceptable and ineffective.
“Each year,” it says, “hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are wrongfully stopped, frisked, or searched. Many wrongfully receive a summons, or are even arrested.”
“Some are even sexually or physically assaulted by NYPD officers. They are being targeted by an increasingly confrontational and arrogant police force, often humiliated in their homes, schools and neighborhoods.”
“These policies make us ALL less safe, by creating an atmosphere of fear of the police, instead of trust.”
“These policies are an outrage, violating our fundamental rights and even the most basic fairness in our city. This is not an acceptable approach to public safety in New York.”
On March 18, 2013, Floyd v. NYC went to trial. It charges Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and NYC police officers (named and unnamed) with unconstitutional stops and frisks. It cites doing so on the basis of race and/or national origin.
It charges violations of New York State laws. It claims multiple other legal violations, including the Fourth and 14th Amendments. The former is addressed above.
The latter prohibits states from “mak(ing) or enforc(ing) any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Section 1983 of title 42 of the US Code states:
“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the
District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any
citizen of the United States or other person within the
jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges,
or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable
to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other
proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought
against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such
officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted
unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was
The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits racial, ethnic, religious and gender discrimination. Under the law’s Title VI, no public funds shall be used to encourage, entrench, subsidize, or result in discriminatory practices.
Floyd v. NYC specifically charges lawless stops and frisks without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. It cites discrimination on the basis of race.
On February 27, 2008, Floyd, an African-American man, tried helping another building tenant locked out of his basement-level apartment.
Three NYPD policemen approached them. They asked what they were doing. They told them to stop. They frisked them. They asked for IDs. They interrogated them.
They said Floyd’s behavior was suspicious. They claimed he was committing a burglary. Other plaintiffs cite similar abusive NYPD practices. Overall they charge stop and frisk discrimination based on race.
In 1999, CCR first challenged NYPD stop and frisk practices. Daniels, et al. v. the City of New York charged discriminatory stop and frisk practices based on race.
On December 12, 2003, settlement terms required the NYPD to maintain a written anti-racial profiling policy in compliance with US and New York State constitutional laws. It’s binding on all NYPD officers.
It requires they be audited to determine whether, and to what extent, they acted based on reasonable suspicion. Documented records must be kept. CCR gets them quarterly.
The NYPD must also engage in public education efforts. They include public meetings and workshops.
The NYPD had to abandon its infamous Street Crime Unit. It’s motto was “We Own The Night.” Plain clothed cops took full advantage. Black and Latino youths were harassed, arrested, falsely charged and killed.
CCR analysis of NYPD practices showed a continuing pattern of widespread, unconstitutional stops and frisks. Floyd v. NYC followed.
It “focuses not only on the lack of any reasonable suspicion to make these stops in violation of the Fourth Amendment, but also on the obvious racial disparities in who gets stopped and searched by the NYPD.”
Around 90% are Blacks and Latinos. Doing so breaches the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Floyd v. NYC remains ongoing.
CCR maintains regular trial updates. Daily summaries and transcripts are included. Other information is also provided. Proceedings may end later in May.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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