Monday, October 24, 2011

Scott Stringer Takes on the NYPD's Racist Stop-and-Frisk Policing

Last we week, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer continued to make Manhattan residents proud as he accelerated his emergence as the clearest and loudest voice amongst elected officials opposing the brutal racism of the policing approach used in New York City.

Stringer in September

In September of  this year, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer took a stand against Mayor Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk policies. He highlighted that over 600,000 NYC residents were stopped last year and that we're on a pace to exceed that number and set a new record this year. With nearly all of those stopped being young men of color, Stringer felt compelled to try to end the practice.

Stringer could not have been more accurate in saying, "We cannot wait a minute longer to have an honest examination of stop-and-frisk and the collateral damage it inflicts on our city every day."

He was also accurate in September when he called on Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD to create an expert panel to help the NYPD establish new strategies for law enforcement that are not based on race or skin color and that will reduce the number of stop-and-frisk incidents and "achieve the right balance between policing and civil rights.”

While we at Manhattan Viewpoint, the NYCLU, and many other groups have criticized the NYPD's racist stop-and-frisk policing policies, Borough President Stringer is the first top-tier prospective candidate for NYC Mayor in 2013 to aggressively and publicly embrace the need to end the stop-and-frisk nightmare. NYC Public Advocate Bill De Blasio has expressed a quieter level opposition to stop-and-frisk. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's support of the racist practice should disqualify her as a potential future Mayor. Thus far, Stringer stands alone as a genuine advocate for ending the racist practice.

Stringer in October

Last week, only a day before a major Harlem protest of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policies that featured Cornel West, Borough President Stringer once again raised his voice to loudly and clearly demand that the Mayor join the rest of us in the 21st Century and end the practice of using skin color as a proxy for criminality.

Stringer wrote a compelling opinion piece in the New York Daily News that provided a superb description of the flaws in the current race-based approach and provided a sincere and tested solution.

Yesterday, I joined with state State Senator Eric Adams in calling for a federal investigation into current stop-and-frisk practices. In 2000, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights concluded that the NYPD street-stop program amounted to racial profiling. Eleven years and millions of stops later, the city is still waiting for a street-stop policy that is designed to identify true threats.

As a federal court in Manhattan found last month, serious questions remain about racial disparities in current stop-and-frisk practices; about the constitutionality of stops that do not result in arrest and about the role quotas may have played in driving the fourfold increase in stops over the past decade. A new investigation that focuses on each of these issues would help to answer these questions and chart a road map for reform.

What we know already about stop-and-frisk should give us all pause. This year, the NYPD is on track to stop 700,000 New Yorkers. And yet in 93% of all stops last year, police could find no reason to make an arrest.

The police say stop-and-frisk is an important strategy for getting guns off the street, a priority that must remain paramount. But in fact, guns are recovered in only 0.2% of the cases, a success rate that would be judged a failure if applied to any other government program.

Lastly, 85% of those stopped last year were black or Latino. Some counter that the high proportion of stops in communities of color merely reflects the ethnic makeup of high-crime neighborhoods, but the numbers tell a different story. NYPD data show that among those stopped, whites, blacks and Latinos are actually arrested in equal proportion, about 7% of the time.

What stop-and-frisk is reaping is not so much guns, but a deep layer of distrust between police and the city's black and Latino neighborhoods, and that makes solving crime harder, not easier.

We should not wait for the results of a federal investigation to implement immediate reforms. Last month, at a forum at Riverside Church, I offered a blueprint for improving stop-and-frisk, not ending it.

We should pilot our own version of "Operation Ceasefire," a community-based policing strategy now employed by some 70 cities. By joining together the police and district attorneys with social services that offer jobs and other paths off the streets, this approach slashed homicide rates in Chicago and Boston by double digits.

We should train officers to make street stops more constitutional and less confrontational. The Fourth Amendment has been interpreted clearly: An officer can make a stop only when he has reasonable suspicion that an individual is committing, has committed or is about to commit a crime. Even then, the officer may frisk a subject only when he reasonably suspects that he is in danger of physical injury. That's not what is happening on the streets of New York today.

Lastly, we should hold precinct commanders accountable for the proper execution of stops-and-frisks.

The day we do all that, New York will be a better, safer place for all of us.

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