The New York City Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk program isn’t quite dead. But it’s a little closer to extinction as a result of a solid decision rendered by a federal judge on Monday.
In a landmark decision that followed a class action suit against stop and frisk, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that police officers have consistently and routinely stopped innocent people while having no objective reason to suspect them of committing crimes. She also named a lawyer, Peter L. Zimroth, to monitor police activity to make sure that the stops of citizens by officers comply with the Constitution.
Scheindlin issues a well-reasoned and highly appropriate decision on New York’s horribly discriminatory practice of stopping and detaining citizens — most of them young Black and Latino New Yorkers.
While her ruling did not end stop and frisk entirely, Sheindlin’s opinion nonetheless was something many in New York had waited for. It covered some of very issues that had left New Yorkers enraged and displeased.
For example, she found that New York City and its police department had in fact “adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data.”
In a significant portion of the ruling, she sided with many civil rights and community organizations who complained that the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg was most prevalent in African-American and Latino communities because they were the New Yorkers who committed the lion’s share of the city’s crime.
“I also conclude that the city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” she wrote.
It is gratifying that the judge sees this horrendous initiative of stop and frisk as an initiative that is fraught with unnecessary components. Moreover, she said the city and its police department were violating the 14th Amendment in that it violated the equal protection clause.
Judge Scheindlin did not stop at just naming a monitor. She ordered the beginning of a pilot program in which officers in at least five precincts across the city will wear cameras, which will allow them to record their interaction with young people in the streets.
Over the last decade, millions of New Yorkers, about 85 percent of them Black and Latino, have been stopped by the police. In nearly 90 percent of the cases, they have done absolutely nothing illegal. In some cases, they were simply walking home from school or hanging out with friends in front of an apartment building. It has been an unsightly blemish on the landscape of America’s largest city.
Scheindlin’s decision comes after a number of recent disappointing court decisions, from the Supreme Court striking down a key provision in the Voting Rights Act and in the verdict freeing George Zimmerman after facing second-degree murder charges against Trayvon Martin. It’s good to finally see one decision in a high-profile case that got it right.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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