Monday, January 19, 2009

NYPD Stop-and-Frisk Outrage

Today is the day our nation celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, and it is a day in which Manhattan Viewpoint highlights a traditional civil rights frustration - race based police enforcement tactics used by the NYPD and the impact of the racialization of law enforcement.

It was successful opposition of this type of government sponsored racial discrimination that is the most remembered element of Dr. King's leadership. His greatest legacy is the national consensus that exists today that discrimination against people of color, even by private institutions and individuals, is unacceptable and harmful. Many types of racial discrimination have been outlawed by federal and state statutes, and many types of racial discrimination persist. One of the most pervasive and and insidious forms of continuing racial discrimination is the discrimination perpetrated by law enforcement personnel against the residents they have pledged to protect.

Racial Disparity Revealed

Last week, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released data that CCR received from the NYPD as a result of an ongoing class-action suit related to accusations of race-based "stop and frisk" activity by the NYPD.

The statistics will not be surprising to people of color who live in New York City, but all of us should be alarmed to see that our suspicions about law enforcement behavior and our extrapolations from personal experiences are in fact supported by the evidence. After analyzing over 1.6 million stops in New York City from 2005 to 2008, the CCR shows us that 80% of those stops are people of color, despite the fact that people of color represent only 53% of the New York City population. In addition, only 10% of stops are of white New Yorkers, though white New Yorkers are 44% of the New York City population. The disparity speaks for itself and helps explain why views of law enforcement personnel are very different in communities of color than they are in other communities.

Exacerbating the problem of the racial disparity in stop and frisk activity is the reality of the apparent harassment of residents. The arrest rate from all stops is extremely low, and it is uniformly low across racial categories. Therefore, the skewing of this high-nuisance, high-humiliation yet low-value law enforcement technique toward law-abiding residents of color in our city increases our focus on ending the both the discrimination and the widespread use of the practice.

Lack of Discipline

We learned back in July that our city's Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) had repeatedly recommended disciplinary action against NYPD personnel for improper stop and frisk activity and that the NYPD had made a practice of taking no action against those NYPD personnel.

The Daily News reported that the CCRB had referred 74 stop and frisk complaints to the NYPD as of July 2008, and only 15 of the 74 complaints resulted in any discipline of the law enforcement personnel involved. In May 2008, eight complaints were substantiated by the CCRB, and none of the eight complaints resulted in any discipline.

Racial Discrimination in Law Enforcement Is Unacceptable

As in so many aspects of life, the first step for the Mayor and the Police Commissioner is to admit they have a problem. Their failure to acknowledge the reality of the racial discrimination suffered by New York City's residents at the hands of the NYPD makes fixing the problem impossible.

There are those that argue that racial profiling is a legitimate tool of police work and should continue, but they typically fail to understand the real impact of racialized policing. In 1999, former NYC Police Commissioner William Bratton talked about the early days of his career in law enforcement in Boston, and he described the police response to escalating numbers of stolen Lincoln Continentals. He said that white drivers were assumed to own the Lincoln they drove and that young black males in Lincolns would be stopped.
As a result, many stolen Lincolns were recovered. Of course, the value of recovering the Lincolns is undoubtedly outweighed by the stress, humiliation, and lost respect for the police experienced by all of the law-abiding black males who were stopped because they were black and male and driving a Lincoln. Moreover, the value of recovering the stolen Lincolns would be outweighed by the message sent by the law enforcement approach: white Bostonians can steal as many Lincolns as they wish without fear of being stopped by the police. It is the celebration of the recovered Lincolns to the exclusion of a focus on the horrors of government-led racial discrimination that permits our problems here in New York City to persist.

As we celebrate the life of Dr. King today and inaugurate a new President tomorrow, we set our sights on brighter days ahead for our country. We must also raise our voices to demand an end to race based policing by the NYPD here in our neighborhoods.

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