Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Stop & Frisk: Bloomberg Deception and fear mongering

Less than three months after U.S District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled New York City’s controversial policing practice, stop and frisk
unconstitutional, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit granted a stay on her ruling and went so far as to remove the judge from the case. The October 31st ruling blocks the numerous remedies outlined by Judge Scheindlin that would align the maligned police practice with the US Constitution until the whole appeals process plays itself out. This means, the appointment of monitor to oversee reforms, revised policies and training regarding stop and frisk and racial profiling, and the use of “body-worn cameras in a “pilot” project in one precinct per borough – “specifically the precinct with the highest number of stops during 2012” – would now be put on hold. 

In her ruling, Judge Scheindlin found that NYPD carries out more stops where there are more black and Hispanic residents, even when other relevant variables are held constant; Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to be stopped within precincts; and for the period 2004 through 2009, when any law enforcement action was taken following a stop, blacks were 30% more likely to be arrested (as opposed to receiving a summons) than whites, for the same suspected crime. While these are incredible findings based on the expert testimony provided during the trial, there was an opportunity to address this stop and frisk issue fourteen years ago.

Judge Schiendlin wrote, “As early as 1999, a report from New York’s Attorney General placed the City on notice that stops and frisks were being conducted in a racially skewed manner. Nothing was done in response. In the years following this report, pressure was placed on supervisors to increase the number of stops. Evidence at trial revealed that officers have been pressured to make a certain number of stops and risk negative consequences if they fail to achieve the goal.”

It’s really not that hard to see the escalating issues with stop and frisk, particularly when you review the data and statistics – let’s take a look:

Between January 2004 and June 2012, the NYPD conducted over 4.4 million Terry stops; the number of stops per year rose sharply from 314,000 in 2004 to a high of 686,000 in 2011; 52% of all stops were followed by a protective frisk for weapons. A weapon was found after 1.5% of these frisks. In other words, in 98.5% of the 2.3 million frisks, no weapon was found; 6% of all stops resulted in an arrest, and 6% resulted in a summons; the remaining 88% of the 4.4 million stops resulted in no further law enforcement action; in 52% of the 4.4 million stops, the person stopped was Black, in 31% the person was Hispanic, and in 10% the person was white; In 2010, New York City’s resident population was roughly 23% Black, 29% Hispanic, and 33% white; in 23% of the stops of blacks, and 24% of the stops of Hispanics, the officer recorded using force. The number for whites was 17%; Weapons were seized in 1.0% of the stops of blacks, 1.1% of the stops of Hispanics, and 1.4% of the stops of whites; and between 2004 and 2009, the percentage of stops where the officer failed to state a specific suspected crime rose from 1% to 36%.

While the data is quite troubling, what is more disturbing – yet not surprising is the steadfast and relentless stream of comments from the out-going Mayor Bloomberg and presumably outgoing, NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. The Bloomberg/Kelly narrative defends stop and frisk with scare tactics and exaggerated language designed to instill fear and anxiety. When you read or listen to their public statements - they’re linking the unconstitutional ruling to the return of more guns and more crime on the streets. The question here though is whether Bloomberg/Kelly is attempting to gain support for their position by injecting racial politics with a narrative that instills racialized fear. In a Washington Post editorial Mayor Bloomberg argues that stop and frisk is not racial profiling, “In 2004, I signed a law banning racial profiling. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and I have zero tolerance for it. We have worked hard to strengthen police-community relations, which are better today than at any point since the 1960s. Part of that work has involved giving black and Latino community leaders what they demand and deserve: a stronger police presence.” On its face, Bloomberg’s commentary appears to be a contradiction considering the racial disparities revealed by the stop and frisk data. Kelly advanced the narrative in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal , an appearance on Meet the Press and the Morning Joe Show.

John Eterno and Eli Silverman completed an analysis exposing the fallacy of Bloomberg/Kelly narrative where stop and frisk played a significant role in decreasing crime. For example, the article cites, “In 2011, there were 191,666 recorded index crimes. So, while the overall drop in crime from 1990 is 73%, the 600% increase in stops after 2002 translates into a relatively small 9% net decrease in crime. In short, almost all the crime drop that NYPD brags about occurred before the ramping-up of the stop-and-frisk tactic.” Their analysis continues, “The issue becomes murkier when we examine statistics on murder – and Mayor Bloomberg has claimed that stop-and-frisk is essential to keeping guns off the street. In 1990, there were 2,245 murders in New York City. By 2002, again before the stop-and-frisk increase, the number of murders drastically decreased to 586. This is a whopping 74% decrease in murders. After the 600% increase in stop-and-frisks, New York City recorded 515 murders in 2011 – a fairly small drop.”

Although the Bloomberg/Kelly narrative argues the effectiveness and utility of stop and frisk as crime reduction tool, their denials of the obvious actually draws attention to a much deeper issue - NYPD’s relations with the minority communities, particularly those of Blacks and Hispanics. In a historical context, this relationship has been largely characterized by acts of racial profiling and brutality violating both civil and human rights. Sometimes these violations end with the ultimate consequence – death. We remember the names, Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, Sean Bell, Eleanor Bumpers, whose deaths quickly comes to mind. We also remember Anthony Baez, Patrick Dorismond, Kimani Gray, Monserrat Barrero, Malcolm Ferguson, Juan Mendez, Michael Stewart, Jamil Moore, Maliki Raymond, Hilton Vega, and countless others can also attest to how acts of police brutality can lead to death. 

With the appeals process, the politics and community protests - this issue will remain in the spotlight as it plays itself out over the next four or five months. Now, people have the right to go the store, to school, to work without fear of being accosted by a police officer compelled to fill quota by racially profiling Blacks and Hispanics. There is a reason for the Fourth Amendment and the courts must ensure that this ineffective policing tool be dismantled so that the rights of all those living in minority communities are not compromised due to the criminal acts of a few.

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