Long before a federal judge ruled in early August that the New York Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” tactic, which places millions of mostly black and Hispanic people under added scrutiny by police, is unconstitutional, politicians, lawyers, and New York residents argued about whether or not the controversial policing mechanism is racial profiling. After weeks of trial, Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the city of New York had violated the constitutional rights of New Yorkers with its “unwritten policy of targeting ‘the right people’ for stops.” Blacks and Latinos made up to 80% of those “right people” who were stopped. In 2011, the number of stops of young black men actually exceeded the total number of young black men in New York City.
One of those young men, Kasiem Walters, an African-American high school senior from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, told his story of how stop-and-frisk has made him afraid of police after being stopped at least seven times.
“I think people shouldn’t have to live in fear,” Walters said. “The point of police is not to instill fear, but I think the point of police is to protect people, to have them not feel fear.”
“The first time I was stopped and frisked, I was about 13 years old. I was of course leaving my house on my way to school to pick up a friend. My friend lives about a block and a half away from me,” Walters says in his video. That’s when police officers pulled up and began to question the teen.
“They went through my book bag, threw my stuff on the ground and all that. They were just asking me questions, being rough with me. Telling me where I was going to end up. ‘Do you want to end up in jail?’ And then they both became very aggressive, searching in my pockets, turning me around and pushing me and forcing my legs open and yanking me. So at that moment I became frightened, definitely frightened. Frightened and confused.”
Walters says he even considered dressing differently so he wouldn’t become a suspect.
“You wake up now and you’re like, am I going to get stopped? Maybe I should wear something so I don’t get stopped. Maybe I shouldn’t wear a hoodie. If I see cops, should I stay on the street? I don’t want them to think I am suspicious. Should I stay on the street? And get harassed by them. That’s something you shouldn’t have to be paranoid about. I shouldn’t have to be afraid of my commute.”
On Tuesday, the City of New York filed a request in court that the implementation of Judge Scheindlin’s opinion be delayed pending an appeal. The city’s lawyers said the judge’s ruling was “rife with errors of law.” Immediately after the judge’s ruling, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city will appeal the decision and accused the judge of not giving the city a “fair trial.”
“Our crime strategies and tools, including Stop, Question, Frisk, have made New York City the safest big city in America,” Bloomberg said in a press conference.
Mayor Bloomberg later implied that it was whites who were unfairly treated by the stop-and-frisk policy, saying police officers “disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.”
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly insisted that his police department was merely focusing on high-crime areas and that the NYPD does not in fact engage in racial profiling. “New York City and its police department have focused their crime-fighting efforts to protect the poorest members of our community who are disproportionately the victims of murder and other violent crime.”
The judge’s opinion points out that between 2004 and June 2012, the NYPD conducted 4.4 million stops and 2.3 million frisks. Out of the 2.3 million, almost 99% of the frisks failed to yield a single weapon. Police contended the stops occurred because the individual was in a “high crime area” or had engaged in “furtive movements.”