New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly take questions during a news conference in New York, Monday, August 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
On Monday, US district court judge Shira Scheindlin dealt a serious, but non-lethal blow to the New York City police policy known as “stop-and-frisk.” After weeks of testimony and evidence presented in the case of Floyd v. City of New York, Scheindlin ruled that stop-and-frisk violated individuals’ Fourth Amendment right to privacy and Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. She did not, however, call for an end to the policy altogether, instead opting to appoint an independent federal monitor to oversee the program and the implementation of reforms that would bring it in line with the Constitution.
Undoubtedly, this is a huge victory for the activists who have been doing work around the issue of stop-and-frisk for years, and perhaps an even bigger victory for the black and Latino young men whose lives have been disproportionately disrupted by repeated violations of their rights. In her ruling, Scheindlin wrote that “the 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.” The ruling may not put an end to stop-and-frisk in its entirety, but at the very least there was a recognition from the court that for years the city’s police force has engaged in a racist practice that has infringed upon the rights of millions.
The same can’t be said of NYC’s current political leadership. In a press conference yesterday afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police commissioner Ray Kelly were visibly dismayed with the ruling. Stop-and-frisk has been a signature crime-fighting tool during the Bloomberg years, one that defines his legacy. Kelly has received praise from high places, in large part because of the work he has done in executing the stop-and-frisk policy. For a judge to rule their “success” unconstitutional surely grates. But their defense of “stop-and-frisk,” despite weak attempts to deny as much, went on to show just how racist it is.
To start, Bloomberg noted the racial diversity of the NYPD, presumably to protect against charges of racism by pointing to the fact that people of color are active parts of the police force. But having your rights violated by someone who looks like you doesn’t somehow make that violation less racist. The fact is that out of roughly 5 million stops conducted over a decade, an alarming majority of them involved black or Latino men, and almost 90 percent of those stops turned up no evidence of wrongdoing. You can add some color to the faces conducting the stops, but that’s an institutionalized form of racism that doesn’t rely on white skin to operate.