Commentary: Stop-and-Frisk, a Practice That Needs Curbing by Courts

The courts are increasingly playing a role in questioning this police practice.

Posted: 07/25/2012 03:32 PM EDT
stop and frisk

The controversy over stop-and-frisk programs wages on with civil liberties and civil rights groups showing no sign of slowing down, certainly not in New York City, where the practice of detaining young Black and brown residents is as widespread as ever.

But with all the protests by ordinary citizens, speeches by politicians and the academic studies decrying the heinous law enforcement practice, there does seem to be one area that may be a cause for hope: the courts.

There have been rulings by court at the state and federal level that are casting the courts as the most powerful critics of stop-and-frisk programs. Specifically, judges have focused on the question of whether the programs have overreached the Constitution in cities’ efforts to reduce crime rates.

Let’s be clear: Stop-and-frisk is an abusive practice that has simply gone too far. It is a police program that operates on its own script, allowing officers to detain people—primarily young Black and Latino men—without and rhyme or reason. It is whimsical, virtually capricious, in its application. 

Despite the insistence by New York police officials and the mayor that officers are trained to be courteous, the anecdotal experiences of most who are stopped portrays a practice that is steeped in condescension, rudeness and even abuse. The department’s own statistics indicated that there were more than 605,000 such stops in 2011, with about 10 percent of those resulting in arrests. About 80 percent of those who are stopped-and-frisked have been Black and Latino.

Sadly, in the aftermath of the recent shooting in a Colorado movie theater that left 12 people dead and another 58 wounded, there have been calls by officials of some cities to intensify stop-and-frisk programs. San Francisco’s mayor, Ed Lee, contends that the shootings in Colorado have made him determined to support stop-and-frisk.

Similarly, after a stray bullet fatally wounded a four-year-old boy in New York City, State Sen.  Ruben Diaz Sr. and Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, both from the Bronx, say they now support stop-and-frisk.

“I know it’s not politically correct. But I am fully, fully totally supporting stop-and-frisk now,” said Diaz.

Random acts of violence are a ghastly part of the American landscape that needs to be addressed by lawmakers in the form of strict gun control legislation. It will not be addressed in any appreciable way by the police practice of stopping and detaining hundreds of thousands of young men—and increasingly women—of color each year.

It’s time now for the federal government to curb the New York Police Department’s unsavory stop-and-frisk program as well as others around the country, and time for the them—or the courts—to finally amend them to something more reasonable that does not humiliate and dehumanize its targets.



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