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Why we shouldn’t champion the ‘stop-and-frisk’ decision as a victory just yet

Updated

Let me finish with this:

Yesterday’s decision by a federal judge regarding  ’stop-and-frisk’ has sparked a national conversation about crime, punishment and race.

In her nearly 200 page opinion, Judge Shira Scheindlin said the NYPD conduct amounted to “indirect racial profiling,” violating both the 4th and 14th Amendments.

The key Supreme Court precedent is called Terry v. Ohio, a 1968 ruling that said  ’stop-and-frisk’ is permissible under certain circumstances.  Importantly, it’s got to be based on more than an officer’s hunch.

Mostly, in New York, individuals have been stopped for so-called “furtive” movements.  That means a person was fidgety.  Or changed directions.  Or walked in a certain way.  Maybe grabbed a pocket.  Or looked over their shoulder

Furtive movements were the factor cited in 48.3% of the cases where blacks were stopped, 45.2% of Hispanics and 39.9% of whites.

Another important stat: about 83% of stops between 2004 and 2012 involved blacks and Hispanics even though they comprise just over 50% of city’s residents.

Were the stops successful?

Between January 2004 and June 2012, the NYPD conducted over 4.4 million Terry stops.  52% of all stops were followed by a protective frisk for weapons. A weapon was found after 1.5% of these frisks. In other words, in 98.5% of the 2.3 million frisks, no weapon was found.

Where the number of minorities stopped for furtive movements, and stopped and frisked for other reasons, far exceeds the rates for whites, it sounds reasonable for the judge to say this is indirect racial profiling, especially where few weapons were found.

Still, before we champion this decision as a victory for civil rights, we need to consider who it will impact.  Here’s New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday:

“We go to where the reports of crime are. Those unfortunately happen to be poor neighborhoods and minority neighborhoods,” said Bloomberg.

When he spoke, I thought of what President Obama said in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin case:

“Now this isn’t to say that the African-American community is naive about the fact that African-American, young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence,” said Obama.

Here is the point: Should crime rise as a result of limiting  ’stop-and-frisk’, the most victimized will be from the same community as those whose civil liberties the judge sought to protect.

Why we shouldn't champion the 'stop-and-frisk' decision as a victory just yet

Updated