Kissing and Harassing to Demoralize a Society of People

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The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices raise serious concerns over racial profiling, illegal stops and privacy rights. The Department’s own reports on its stop-and-frisk activity confirm what many people in communities of color across the city have long known: The police are stopping hundreds of thousands of law abiding New Yorkers every year, and the vast majority are black and Latino.

An analysis by the NYCLU revealed that innocent New Yorkers have been subjected to police stops and street interrogations more than 4 million times since 2002, and that black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics. Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio closed a divisive chapter in New York City history Thursday when he announced that his administration had reached an agreement with the civil rights lawyers who challenged the Police Department’s abusive and racially discriminatory stop-and-frisk program in federal court.

The agreement clears the way for the Police Department to carry out reforms ordered last summer by Judge Shira Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan, and thus to repair its damaged relationship with minority communities. The judge ruled that the department’s stop-and- frisk tactics violated the constitutional rights of minority citizens and said that city officials under the former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, had been “deliberately indifferent” to these illegalities.

An analysis by the NYCLU revealed that innocent New Yorkers have been subjected to police stops and street interrogations more than 4 million times since 2002, and that black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics. Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports:

In 2012, New Yorkers were stopped by the police 532,911 times
473,644 were totally innocent (89 percent).
284,229 were black (55 percent).
165,140 were Latino (32 percent).
50,366 were white (10 percent).
In 2013, New Yorkers were stopped by the police 191,558 times.
169,252 were totally innocent (88 percent).
104,958 were black (56 percent).
55,191 were Latino (29 percent).
20,877 were white (11 percent).

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Every time a police officer stops a person in NYC, the officer is supposed to fill out a form to record the details of the stop. Officers fill out the forms by hand, and then the forms are entered manually into a database. There are 2 ways the NYPD reports this stop-and-frisk data: a paper report released quarterly and an electronic database released annually.

The paper reports – which the N.Y.C.L.U. releases every three months – include data on stops, arrests, and summonses. The data are broken down by precinct of the stop and race and gender of the person stopped. The paper reports provide a basic snapshot on stop-and-frisk activity by precinct and are available here.

The electronic database includes nearly all of the data recorded by the police officer after a stop. The data include the age of person stopped, if a person was frisked, if there was a weapon or firearm recovered, if physical force was used, and the exact location of the stop within the precinct. Having the electronic database allows researchers to look in greater detail at what happens during a stop.

In response, the city argued that minority residents were stopped more frequently because they committed more crimes. But evidence at trial showed that those being stopped were overwhelmingly innocent, that blacks and Hispanics were stopped in disproportionate numbers and that officers were more likely to use force against minority citizens. Mr. Bloomberg appealed the decision. Mr. de Blasio’s criticism of the policy, and his promise to drop the appeal, helped propel him into office.

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The setting for the announcement from Mr. de Blasio, Police Commissioner William Bratton and the city’s top lawyer, Zachary Carter — a community recreation center in the mainly minority Brownsville section of Brooklyn — powerfully reinforced their message. Brownsville was ground zero for the stop-and-frisk program at its height. A Times analysis in 2010 found that the police had logged nearly 52,000 stops within eight or so blocks over a four-year period. This meant that young people in the area were growing up in the equivalent of a police state where they could be detained on the sidewalk at any time for no reason at all. The fear and distrust that flowed from this undermined confidence in the Police Department, making it all the more difficult for officers to do their jobs.

Mr. Bratton, who has made good community relations a cornerstone of his career, acknowledged as much in his remarks. “We will not break the law to enforce the law,” he said. “That’s my solemn promise to every New Yorker, regardless of where they were born, where they live, or what they look like. Those values aren’t at odds with keeping New Yorkers safe — they are essential to long-term public safety.” Mr. de Blasio spoke movingly of the toll that the program has taken on the social fabric and on minority youth, many of them deeply alienated by tactics that have presumed them criminal until proved otherwise.

The city can now set about taking the corrective steps that Judge Scheindlin ordered. She has selected Peter Zimroth, a respected lawyer and former prosecutor, to serve as a monitor. His responsibilities will include developing new reforms governing Police Department policies and training and discipline on stop-and-frisk. These measures should help to bring police policies fully in line with the Constitution.

So I…pull over to the side of the road, I heard
“Son do you know why I’m stoppin’ you for?”
Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hats real low,
Do I look like a mind reader sir, I don’t know,
Am I under arrest or should I guess some mo’?
“Well you was doin’ fifty-five in a fifty-four.
License and registration and step out of the car
Are you carryin’ a weapon on you I know a lot of you are.”

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Behavioral profiles that rely on an individual’s conduct are far more
accurate than profiles that depend on an individual’s race. When officers take
race into account to develop a criminal profile, they rely on stereotypes about
criminal tendencies of minority groups, rather than objective and rational criteria
for suspicion.

This use of racial stereotypes to detect criminality violates
multiple amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Despite the fact that many strong
arguments against the practice of racial profiling may be derived from the
Constitution, the legal system in the United States has utterly failed to effectively
address the problem of racial profiling. Thus, the legal system perpetuates a
class structure in which society may continue to socially oppress African
Americans
by portraying them as possessing uncontrollable and innate urges
toward criminality. Racial profiling is a denial of equal treatment as well as a
reflection of the historical stigmatization of all African Americans.

The specific analysis of New York’s racial profiling problems detailed above illustrates the
manner in which society ignores the role of this historic stigmatization when
examining racial profiling.

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Many who speak out against the practice of racial profiling link its existence to slavery in this nation. Courts have consistently failed to acknowledge the connection between demonizing African Americans, as a means
of justifying the institution of slavery, and racial profiling practices used by police in contemporary American society. Historical presumptions that developed to maintain the slavery system continue to remain; these presumptions base themselves on the assertion that African Americans are habitual criminals that should be under constant suspicion.

The stigma of criminality attached to African Americans by white society was developed as a means of social control over the enslaved and later emancipated African Americans. By creating an image of blacks that portrays them as prone to irrepressible violence, white society effected the perception of slaves as subhuman. This perception reinforced the belief that the institution of slavery was needed to restrain African Americans. By placing whites in
constant fear of blacks, white citizens would be more willing to accept black subordination to ensure white safety. Abolition of the slavery system proved ineffective in negating centuries of historical, legal, and cultural stripping of African Americans’ humanity. Racial profiling of African Americans has always been and remains to be a part of the nation’s social and legal fabric.

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