U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled Monday that New York City’s “Stop and Frisk” policy violates the Constitution and must be reformed. The federal judge found that the New York Police Department had adopted a policy of “indirect racial profiling,” which violated protections afforded by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
“The City [of New York] acted with deliberate indifference toward the NYPD’s practice of making unconstitutional stops and conducting unconstitutional frisks,” Scheindlin wrote in her decision. She added that the policy had resulted in “the disproportionate and discriminatory stopping of blacks and Hispanics in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.”
“The city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” Scheindlin wrote. “In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory.”
Though Scheindlin stopped short of banning Stop and Frisk, she ordered an independent monitor to oversee the practice and a process to consider additional reforms.
Members of minority groups have been arguing for reform or elimination of Stop and Frisk for years, citing the overwhelming racial disparity in police stops. Those claims were pooh-poohed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said in June that he thought Stop and Frisk didn’t target enough minorities. Predictably, Bloomberg blasted Monday’s decision, saying that the ruling would make the city and country more dangerous.
Civil rights activists, on the other hand, cheered the ruling. Benjamin Jealous, the head of the NAACP, said in a statement that the ruling was a “groundbreaking victory.” The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the plaintiffs in the case, said the ruling was “a victory for all New Yorkers.”
About 5 million people have been stopped under Stop and Frisk over the last decade. The stops have been so heavily weighted toward nonwhites that more African Americans have been stopped than actually live in New York City. Scheindlin noted in her ruling that African Americans were more likely to be stopped for reasons such as “furtive movements” than white people, and that in the vast majority of cases where police cited a “suspicious bulge” as a reason to search, no weapon was found.
Overall, 80 percent of people stopped under Stop and Frisk have been African American or Hispanic, and 90 percent of those stopped weren’t convicted of any crime. The stops appear to have been designed to harass and frighten non-white New Yorkers, rather than to reduce crime rates.
The ruling could complicate the potential candidacy of New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who has been touted as a possible replacement for Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security. The ruling will also impact the ongoing race to succeed Bloomberg as New York City mayor. Most mayoral candidates indicated a tentative acceptance of the ruling, with all Democratic candidates issuing statements ranging from calls for improvement to outright elimination of the program.
The current mayor, however, shows no sign of giving up. Bloomberg vowed to appeal the ruling, stating that New York City did not receive a fair trial. That reasoning must ring hollow to the millions of average African American or Hispanic citizens of New York City who have been stopped under the Stop and Frisk policy for no good reason.