During a press conference on Monday about a major gun seizure, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “I think if I had a son and that son was stopped, I would have some real questions about it.”
He added, ‘Having said that, I think that if I thought long and hard about it—I actually thought that Bill Thompson said it right. Bill Thompson said he didn’t like ‘stop-and-frisk,’ but he had a son he wanted to make sure the kid didn’t get killed, and the only way you should do that is to get guns off the streets.”
Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill deBlasio, who does have a son who’s statistically very likely to be stopped and frisked in New York City, has said he opposes racial profiling in stop-and-frisk, though it’s not entirely clear that even he would completely end the practice. And as someone who is living in New York and who does have sons who statistics show would be prime targets for stop-and-frisk, this is a matter of some urgency.
At the end of the day, the justification that Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly use for stop-and-frisk is not about statistics, because statistics are not on their side. Three separate university studies have failed to find any correlation between stop-and-frisk and the huge drop in violent crime in New York since the early 1990s when the crack and gang epidemic in the city began to wane.
In fact, it’s just as likely that gentrification of some of New York’s worst neighborhoods or the economic boom during the Clinton years or just the aging out of notorious New York gangs or just time and circumstance brought crime down as much or more than the random stopping of young black and brown men.
The success rate for finding a weapon or drugs in a ‘stop-and-frisk’ situation is just 1 in 147 stops for African-Americans, 1 in 99 for Hispanics, and 1 in 20 for whites. That means that of the more than 500,000 mostly black and brown people stopped, only around 16,000 guns were taken off the street. Surely that big gun bust that the mayor and police commissioner were bragging about didn’t come about as a result of stopping, questioning, and humiliating hundreds of thousands of one-off minority residents of the safest big city in America.
So what Bloomberg is left with, and what will be part of his legacy, is this notion that brown people are simply more criminal than white people, and so they should accept the idea of being stopped and frisked for the greater good of New York. In fact, minority communities should welcome what Bloomberg calls the “inconvenience” of being treated like a criminal by the NYPD because they are also more likely to be the victims of violent crime. And yet, we don’t stop and frisk young white men entering public buildings or schools or movie theaters in response to the statistic that young white men are most likely mass shooters.
Mayor Bloomberg, you have done admirable work advocating gun control, and New York is indeed a safe city because of smart policies on guns. But three-quarters of the drop in violent crime in this city took place before stop-and-frisk, including during the era of community policing and are partly led by your police commissioner, Ray Kelly.
It is entirely possible to be aggressive on gun control, to have a smart, stepped-up police presence in high-crime neighborhoods, and to protect and serve all New Yorkers without treating some of us like criminals.
And not for nothing, but Mr. Mayor—if you had a son who was stopped and frisked, the policy would have never had to go to court because you wouldn’t have stood for it.