Commentary: Institutionalized Racial Profiling

The reality behind New York’s stop-and-frisk policing.

Posted: 06/14/2012 12:36 PM EDT
The reality behind New York’s stop-and-frisk policing.

Harass. Intimidate. Humiliate. Under the guise of controlling crime, these actions are the real consequences of New York City’s egregious and discriminatory stop-and-frisk program.

Stop-and-frisk policing has become nothing more than institutionalized racial profiling. On paper, stop-and-frisk  permits police officers to use a “reasonable suspicion” standard to stop anyone they believe has, is, or is about to commit a crime. Additionally, police may search the individual if they have reasonable suspicion that he or she is armed and dangerous. In practice, reasonable suspicion is too often replaced by racial bias, leading to hundreds of people of color being targeted by law enforcement officers.

Encouraged by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly, NYPD officers stopped and frisked people in the city nearly 700,000 times last year. No guns were found in over 99 percent of the stops; however, officers continued to stop individuals at an excessive rate. Of those individuals targeted by the program, a whopping 87 percent were Black or Latino — and, more telling, 90 percent walked away without even a ticket.

Even more appalling, Bloomberg and Kelly refuse to accept that their program is ineffective and discriminatory. Instead, their offices point to a tepid decline in violent crimes to justify the abusive practices, not addressing the percentage of fruitless stops and lack of gun or weapon recovery. 

Data shows that the increase in stops has not led to an increase in gun recovery. In 2003, officers made 160,851 stops and recovered only 604 guns, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. While the number of stops increased more than fourfold in 2011, the number of guns seized went up by less than 200. In fact, guns were recovered in one-tenth of one percent of the stops last year.

Additionally, large cities across the country are seeing steeper drops in crime without resorting to stop-and-frisk policing. From 2001 to 2010, the violent crime rate fell 29 percent in New York City. During that same time period violent crime fell 49 percent in Dallas, 59 percent in Los Angeles and 56 percent in New Orleans.

Despite no direct evidence connecting aggressive stop-and-frisk policy with lower crime, the city continues to press ahead with the program. Current stop-and-frisk numbers are already outpacing last year’s record. The number is estimated to reach 800,000 — subjecting more innocent individuals to racially-biased tactics.

Racial profiling programs like the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy make our cities and our country less smart and less safe — a fact Commissioner Kelly pointed out when headed the U.S. Customs Service. He called racial profiling “poor law enforcement” and he was right. Racial profiling is not only ineffective, but it breeds mistrust in neighborhoods, forcing law-abiding people to fear both criminals and the police.

It is time for New York City to rethink its approach to law enforcement. We cannot allow the NYPD to constantly harass and humiliate our children because of the color of their skin. Our community deserves better and our children deserve better.

That is why on Father’s Day, June 17, thousands of outraged and emboldened protesters from all corners of the city and country will march in silent solidarity in New York City to tell Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD that we will no longer tolerate this abuse.

Benjamin Todd Jealous is the president and CEO of the NAACP. Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization.


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