Commentary: New York City's Stop and Frisk Should End

Condemned by groups ranging from the New York Civil Liberties Union to the NAACP, the practice of stopping Black and Latino citizens should end.

Posted: 02/19/2013 06:12 PM EST

After years of outrage and protests, condemnation and rebuke, it’s time for New York City’s stop and frisk police policies to fade into a well-deserved sunset. 

The practice of capriciously stopping Black and brown New Yorkers, searching them and subjecting them to humiliation simply because they, well, exist, is a blemish on the city of New York and urban police initiatives that employ that technique. It only adds to the suspicion and mistrust between citizens and the people who are sworn to protect them.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has staunchly defended the practice, insisting that it has resulted in fewer crimes being committed. "In New York City fewer young men are being killed or shot and fewer are going to jail than ever before and that's a record of accomplishment that we intend to continue until Mike Bloomberg leaves office," said John McCarthy, a spokesman for the mayor.

In his recent State of the City address, Bloomberg announced a progressive new policy, saying that people arrested in New York City for possessing small amounts of marijuana will no longer have to spend a night in jail. That followed a proposal to decriminalize the possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana.

Bloomberg’s proposal is commendable. But it doesn’t affect the practice of stopping young men randomly. In order to determine whether someone is in possession of more or less than 15 grams of marijuana, police officers will still stop and frisk him. A highly troubling feature of this misguided policy is that nearly 90 percent of the New Yorkers stopped under this initiative are African-American and Latino. A full 88 percent of the 3.8 million people stopped were proven innocent of any crime.

The problem is that there is no research whatsoever that would validate the mayor’s assertion. 

The Bloomberg administration points to the fact that violent crime declined nearly 30 percent between 2001 and 2010 in New York City. But as the New York Civil Liberties Union has made clear, other large cities, too, had experienced declining levels of violent crimes in the same period. In fact, violent crime dropped by 59 percent in Los Angeles, 56 percent in New Orleans, 49 percent in Dallas and 37 percent in Baltimore in the same period. None of those cities has stop and frisk initiatives.

The pendulum of acceptance of the practice is clearly swinging away from the Bloomberg philosophy. A Federal District judge ruled recently that the stop and frisk practice violated the constitutional rights of those who were detained by the police, focusing on a section of the Bronx. 

“While it may be difficult to say where, precisely, to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters, such a line exists, and the NYPD has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops,” said Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan.

It is time for this practice, which has been condemned in quarters ranging from the New York Civil Liberties Union to the NAACP, to finally come to an end. One would hope that it would happen before Bloomberg’s third and final term ends in January 2014. If not, it should be a prominent campaign issue that all the candidates should be compelled to address.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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