New York’s “stop-and-frisk” program is meant to get drugs and guns off the streets. But in practice, people of color–particularly young black and Hispanic men–have felt harassed and humiliated by the nation’s largest police force.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg and police commissioner Raymond Kelly continue to defend and even celebrate the program despite allegations of racial profiling and proof of its ineffectiveness. The police department has withstood legislative and legal challenges aimed at ending “stop-and-frisk.” But a class-action suit known as Floyd, et. al. v. City of New York could halt the program for good if a federal judge rules it unconstitutional. Earlier this week, the NYPD settled a separate suit with the New York Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that will expunge hundreds of thousands of names collected during police stops.
WATCH: PoliticsNation reports Wednesday on the “stop-and-frisk” settlement, and Rev. Al Sharpton speaks to one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
With so much controversy surrounding “stop-and-frisk,” it has become a central issue in the New York mayoral race. Most of the candidates would keep it in place in some form. Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, is among them but wants to ban the police from racial profiling. A proposal to do just that is before City Council.
“The legislation to ban racial profiling was put forward to send an absolute clear message that it wouldn’t be tolerated anymore by the NYPD,” de Blasio said in an interview. “The vast majority of those stopped are currently young males of color, and almost 90% are considered entirely innocent even under police statistics.”
Recent polls show de Blasio is running third in a crowded field. The tough rhetoric has enhanced his profile among New York voters of color and won kudos in media circles. Salon’s Joan Walsh described him as a “real progressive.” He earned an endorsement this week from The Nation magazine and others from actor/activist Harry Belafonte and billionaire George Soros.
“I believe ‘stop-and-frisk’ can be a important police tool when used appropriately. For example, when following specific suspect descriptions or responding to reports of a crime within constitutionally protected guidelines,” he said. de Blasio said no other mayoral candidate supports proposals to ban racial profiling and to create an independent Inspector General at the NYPD to ensure transparency and accountability.
“The overuse and abuse of ‘stop-and-frisk’ under Bloomberg and Kelly has worsened police community relations. We need real reforms that will bring cops and neighbors together as partners to catch the real bad guys,” de Blasio said.
But the public advocate takes no pride in needing the courts to step in and fix the city’s problems, he said of the pending decision in the Floyd case. “That’s not a victory for New York City, that we didn’t fix our own problem, that the federal government had to step in.”
de Blasio’s sentiment extends beyond “stop-and-frisk,” as he also noted “systematic discrimination” in housing and unemployment and incarceration rates. ”I think the plans I put forward on trying to raise wage and benefit levels, redistribute corporate subsidies to the grassroots and away from the big companies, and build more affordable housing, a tax on the wealthy, and improving our schools–all of this is needed if we’re going to make this a city for everyone again.”
See below de Blasio’s first television ad, released Thursday. Read more about de Blasio here and here.