After a federal judge ruled yesterday that the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy was unconstitutional and ordered a monitor to oversee the department, Mayor Michael Bloomberg angrily attacked the decision and vowed to appeal.
Across the media spectrum, commentators debated the impact the ruling would have on black and Latino communities and on policing in New York.
U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin’s scathing decision lashed city officials who had “turned a blind eye” to evidence that officers carried out the searches in a “racially discriminatory manner,” violating individuals’ right to privacy and equal treatment under the law.
“In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of singling out ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution,” the judge wrote.
Scheindlin, who is currently overseeing three lawsuits against stop-and-frisk, wrote that the unconstitutional stops have exacted a “human toll” in demeaning and humiliating law-abiding citizens.
Between January 2004 and June 2012, the NYPD conducted 4.4 million stops, but just 6 percent resulted in arrests and 6 percent generated summonses. So in 88 percent of the 4.4 million stops, the person was doing nothing wrong. And while more than half of all people stopped were frisked, only 1.5 percent of frisks uncovered weapons.
Blacks or Hispanics were stopped in 83 percent of the cases, although they make up just over half the population.
City officials have continually argued that the racial disparity is justified because blacks and Hispanics commit more crimes, Scheindlin would have none of it.
“This reasoning is flawed because the stopped population is overwhelmingly innocent — not criminal,” she wrote. “There is no basis for assuming that an innocent population shares the same characteristics as the criminal suspect population in the same area.”
Bloomberg, who has ardently defended the program and even claimed that not enough blacks and Hispanics were stopped, said the city didn’t get a fair trial.
“The judge conveyed a disturbing disregard for the good intentions of our officers, who form the most diverse police department in the U.S.,” he said during a press conference Monday. It was a “dangerous” decision by the judge, Bloomberg said, adding that the policy had helped lower crime in New York.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly called the ruling “disturbing” and “highly offensive.”
“This is simply, recklessly untrue,” he said.
Peter Zimroth, a one-time city lawyer and a former chief assistant district attorney, was selected as the department’s monitor, tasked with making sure adequate changes are made to the policing policy. The judge said he will work closely with the NYPD in implementing the new procedures.
On MSNBC, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson conceded that there would be merit in stop-and-frisk if it were done fairly.
“88 percent of the stop-and-frisks result in no summons, no nothing,” he said. “You could get a record pretty close to that, maybe it would be 95 percent, say, if you did it, if you stopped and frisked on the Upper East Side or Wall Street. On Wall Street, you’d probably have more given the criminality that happens down there.”