Making a Bad Situation Worse
In January of this year, on the eve of the inauguration of our new President and on the day that we commemorated the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, we addressed the outrage of racial profiling by the NYPD. We saw that nearly all of the New York City residents who faced a "stop and frisk" by the NYPD were people of color and that only 10% of those stopped were arrested or even received a summons. This pattern of harassment of our neighbors must stop immediately.
Unfortunately, the NYPD is on a pace to set a record for the number of stop and frisk incidents in our city in 2009. So far, the 2009 pace is 18% higher than the 2008 pace, and now people of color are 91% of stops instead of 80% of the stops as they were previously. Our city's population is 53% people of color, but 91% of those stopped and frisked by the police are people of color. More and more, the "crime" of walking-while-black is the focus of the NYPD.
Previous reports have shown the extent to which race is driving the behavior of the NYPD.
- In 2006, 55 percent of the stops were of Black people – more than double the Black population percentage.
- Cops found guns, drugs, or stolen property on whites about twice as often as they did on black suspects.
- Stops of whites amounted to only 2.6 percent of the white population. By contrast, stops of Blacks, represented 21.1 percent of the entire black population.
- Residents of Brownsville's 73rd Precinct and Harlem's 28th Precinct had a 30 to 36 percent chance of being stopped and questioned by police in 2006. Citywide, the average was about 6 percent.
As the NYCLU has pointed out, every one of the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are stopped by the police each year has his or her personal information stored in an NYPD database permanently. Though no summons is issued and no arrest is made, the personal information is collected and retained. Since the stops occur only in non-white communities, this process amounts to a catalogue of personal details on the non-white population of our city with the target group skewing younger than the city as a whole.
The outrage of the stops is amplified and exacerbated by the scandal of the information collection.
End Race-Based Policing
As we stated in January:
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.
These problems are hardening and intensifying. We must take action at the polls and in our communities to reverse this trend toward the criminalization of being a non-white New Yorker.