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“A Powerful Legacy”: Positive Steps On Stop And Frisk, Drug Arrests

For all who believe in colorblind justice — and want to see fewer African American and Hispanic men caught up in the system — there are two recent items of good news: a judge’s ruling ordering changes in New York’s “stop-and-frisk” policy and Attorney General Eric Holder’s initiative to keep nonviolent drug offenders out of prison.

First, stop-and-frisk. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is having a hissy fit over U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin’s finding that the policy amounted to “indirect racial profiling.” On his weekly radio show, he wouldn’t even say Scheindlin’s name, calling her “some woman” who knows “absolutely zero” about policing. In an op-ed for The Post, Bloomberg went so far as to accuse Scheindlin of being “ideologically driven.”

If and when Bloomberg calms down, I’d like to ask him the fundamental question posed — not in these words, of course — by Scheindlin’s ruling: Would it kill you to stop and frisk some white guys, too?

Blacks and Hispanics make up about half of New York City’s population but were targeted in 87 percent of the 532,911 “stops” last year under Bloomberg’s policy, which encourages police to detain and search individuals if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person “committed, is committing, or is about to commit” a crime. The reason most often cited for a stop is that the individual made “furtive” movements.

In nine out of 10 cases, the person is stopped — and sometimes frisked — but no evidence is found of any offense. Bloomberg argues that this kind of proactive policing actually prevents crime, and he credits stop-and-frisk for making New York the safest big city in the country.

I’m all for safe streets. I’m also aware that there is no consensus crediting stop-and-frisk with any impact on the crime rate, but I’m willing to accept the premise that an active police presence can deter criminals. My problem is that African Americans and Hispanics are being singled out disproportionately for these arbitrary searches.

Bloomberg says this is because most violent crime occurs in black and Hispanic neighborhoods, with black and Hispanic victims. By all means, police should continue walking and cruising these beats. But the numbers indicate that African Americans and Hispanics are being given too much stop-and-frisk scrutiny — and that whites are being given too little.

According to an analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union, blacks and Hispanics who are stopped are more likely than whites to be frisked. But just 2 percent of blacks and Hispanics who are frisked are discovered to be carrying weapons, while 4 percent of whites who are frisked have weapons. So if the aim is to find illegal guns, police should frisk more whites.

Why such fuss over a few minutes of inconvenience and indignity? Because blacks and Hispanics who come into contact with the criminal justice system for any reason are more likely to be arrested, charged and convicted than whites and are likely to serve longer prison sentences.

More than 26,000 stops were made last year for alleged marijuana offenses, for example; 61 percent were of African Americans and only 9 percent were of whites. But surveys show that whites are equally or more likely than blacks to be marijuana users. Police don’t find white potheads because they’re not looking for them.

We know that nationwide, according to federal figures, African Americans are four times as likely as whites to be arrested, charged and imprisoned for minor drug offenses. Once young black and Hispanic men enter the criminal justice system, too often they become trapped in a loop of incarceration, release, unemployment and recidivism.

On the national level, Holder has taken direct aim at this vicious cycle with the announcement last week that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders will no longer face federal charges that carry long mandatory prison sentences.

Holder is giving new instructions to federal prosecutors and also supporting legislation that has received bipartisan support in the Senate, where some conservatives now see excessive prison terms as a waste of money.

“We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate, not merely to warehouse and to forget,” Holder said in a speech to the American Bar Association. President Obama is expected to make prison reform one of his priorities this fall.

Ending the presumption that African American and Hispanic men are beyond redemption would be a powerful legacy for the first black president and the first black attorney general to leave behind.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 19, 2013

August 20, 2013 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Stop and Frisk | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Does ‘Some Woman’ Know?”: Commissioner Ray Kelly, “No Question” More People Will Die Without Stop And Frisk

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly enthusiastically defended the New York Police Department’s use of the controversial “stop and frisk” program during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday morning. Kelly went so far as to claim that more New Yorkers would die without the procedure in place.

Stop and frisk is a commonly used practice wherein NYC police officers question tens of thousands of pedestrians and may frisk them for weapons and contraband. The program disproportionately targets young black and Latino men, leading many to claim that it constitutes racial profiling — a view that was affirmed by federal judge Shira Scheindlin, who ruled the practice to be unconstitutional last week.

Host David Gregory asked Kelly if more Americans would die if the judge’s ruling — which Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s (I) administration has already appealed — were to stand and the program be dismantled. Kelly replied, “No question about it, violent crime will go up,” before launching into a more extensive defense of stop and frisk premised on higher crime rates among minorities:

We need some balance here. The stark reality is that violence is happening disproportionately in minority communities. And that unfortunately is in big cities throughout America. We have record low numbers of murders in New York City, record low numbers of shootings, we’re doing something right to save lives. […]

This is something that’s integral to policing. This happens throughout America at any police jurisdiction. You have to do it. Officers have to have the right of inquiry, if they see some suspicious behavior. So I can assure you, this is not just a New York City issue. It’s an issue throughout America. And this case has to be appealed in my judgment because it will be taken as a template and have significant impact in policing throughout America.

In her ruling against stop and frisk, Scheindlin wrote, “[T]he policy encourages the targeting of young black and Hispanic men based on their prevalence in local crime complaints. This is a form of racial profiling.”

More than 5 million New York residents have been stopped and frisked under the program since Bloomberg took office in 2002. Over 86 percent of those who have been stopped are either black or Latino. But the mass random stops haven’t been particularly efficient — a staggering 4.4 million of New Yorkers who were targeted under the program, which cost taxpayer $22 million in civil rights lawsuits last year, were innocent.

There have also been incidents where a stop and frisk ends with deadly consequences. In March, overzealous NYPD officers shot and killed 16-year-old black male Kimani Gray after stopping him for “suspiciously” adjusting his belt. The NYPD claims that Gray had drawn a weapon on the officers — but eyewitness testimony disputes that account, and an autopsy revealed that several shots were fired from behind Gray.

That hasn’t stopped the Bloomberg administration from singing the practice’s praises. Bloomberg recently dismissed Scheindlin as “some woman” who knows “absolutely zero” about policing. “Your safety and the safety of your kids is now in the hands of some woman who does not have the expertise to do it,” he said during a radio interview Friday.

By: Sy Mukherjee, Think Progress, August 18, 2013

August 19, 2013 Posted by | Stop and Frisk | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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