If We Hate Arizona’s SB1070, Why Don’t We Hate NY’s Stop-and-Frisk Policies?
Racial profiling has been a huge issue in this country, thanks to Arizona’s ruthless pursuit of undocumented immigrants. Dissing Arizona over the issue became a favorite national pastime, as we all eagerly watched Governor Jan Brewer get her comeuppance from the Supreme Court. The Court eviscerated much of SB1070, the draconian law that sanctioned the state’s persecution of not just immigrants, but much of its Latino population.
A similar issue of racial profiling, targeting American citizens on a massive scale, has been largely ignored outside of the place where it’s happening—New York City. Activists in the city have targeted the stop-and-frisk tactics of the New York Police Department, but outside of the city, no one seems to be paying attention.
Stop-and-frisk policies mean that, in overwhelming numbers, black and Latino youths are being targeted and harassed by the NYPD. Last year alone, there were nearly 700,000 stops. More than 80% of these were of minorities. The NYPD has adopted a policy of stopping whomever they please, whenever they please, and then conducting what are essentially unwarranted searches, called frisks or pat downs.
All police are permitted to stop people on the street to ask questions. However, the subject has the right to not answer the questions and walk away, unless the police decide to detain him. According to 4th Amendment protections, actually detaining someone requires that the police have probable cause to believe that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed—with specific, objective reasons that would justify either a search warrant or an arrest. A “hunch” is not good enough. “Furtive movements” is not good enough. Talking to a known drug dealer is not enough. Being in a high crime area is not enough. Yet these are the excuses given by the NYPD.
Stops are often accompanied by frisks. Legal frisks can happen for only one reason: to ensure the safety of the police officer who is asking questions. However, the police must have probable cause to believe a person is carrying a concealed weapon—for example, by observing a bulge that could reasonably be thought to be a weapon. The frisk can only be of the person’s outer clothing. The subject cannot be required to empty his pockets, nor can the officer search his pockets.
Illegal stops and searches in New York City have mushroomed over the last decade, from 100,000 in 2002 to nearly 700,000 last year. But guns have been seized only 0.15% of the time! As the New York Civil Liberties Union stated, “Either the police are stunningly incompetent, or they are conducting hundreds of thousands of illegal frisks”—mostly against African-Americans and Latinos.
How does this compare to what happened in Arizona? As of January 2011, an estimated 360,000 undocumented immigrants lived in Arizona. Even if every single immigrant had been stopped one time during the year, the numbers wouldn’t have approached the number of stops in New York City last year. Where is the outrage over the relentless bullying of minority American citizens by the NY police?
As a result of stop-and-frisk policies, a lawsuit has been filed against New York City. In May, Federal District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin gave class-action status to the suit. Scheindlin said that the command structure of the police department was the problem, along with “the department’s policy of establishing performance standards and demanding increased levels of stops and frisks.” A similar lawsuit was settled by Philadelphia in 2010; their police department accepted outside oversight and is adopting new protections of citizens’ civil rights. New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg, however, embraces stop-and-frisk and refuses to settle.
The call to boycott Arizona over its storm-trooper approach to civil rights came from many quarters. The uproar hit the state with financial losses that are estimated at $600-700 million due to boycotts and lost business opportunities. Isn’t it time to boycott the Big Apple for its stop-and-frisk policies, until its officials agree to cease and desist?
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