by Jayson Hawkins
New York City’s 2021 mayoral candidates faced the same issues that plague every metropolitan area—crime, COVID, climate change—but questions about the city’s allegedly reformed “stop-and-frisk” policy occupied a prominent place in the debates. The practice, which began decades ago when Rudy Giuliani was serving as mayor, drew fire from critics over the years as a serious infringement on civil liberties, and a 2013 federal class-action lawsuit led to court-mandated reforms intended to eliminate the use of stop-and-frisk to target people of color.
The practice reached its acme in 2011 when almost 700,000 residents were subjected to stop-and-frisk, 90% of whom were minorities. Despite the ruthless targeting, a mere 2% of those frisked were carrying weapons, drugs, or other illegal items.
Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned in 2013 by vowing police reform and a halt to “a stop-and-frisk era that unfairly targets people of color.” The number of stops did drop dramatically under de Blasio, totaling only 13,459 in 2019 and bottoming out at 9,544 amidst the pandemic in 2020. Yet relieved as many New Yorkers are that fewer are being frisked, the ratio of minorities targeted remained virtually unchanged at 91%. Blacks make up slightly less than a quarter of New York City’s inhabitants but accounted for well over half of the stops in 2020.
The problem, as reported by The Intercept, is inherently tied to the overpolicing of minority-dominated areas like East Harlem and the Bronx.
“The data on the precincts with the highest number of stops only confirms what New Yorkers of color have been saying all along—predominately Black and Latinx neighborhoods are policed differently than predominantly white neighborhoods, and stop-and-frisk is no exception,” Molly Griffard, a Legal Aid Society spokesperson, said. “Anyone who believes stop-and-frisk is over clearly isn’t talking to people who live in these overpoliced neighborhoods that many of our clients call home.”
The NYPD has admitted the huge reduction in stop-in-frisk numbers does not reflect the situation on the streets. A monitor appointed by the court as a result of the 2013 lawsuit has stated year after year that many stops are simply not recorded. In addition, cops have begun utilizing other questionable tactics such as forcing people to provide identification without probable cause. Although these interactions are potential civil rights violations, they often generate no paperwork and thus afford the police plausible deniability against claims.
The COVID-19 tragedy that heavily impacted New York City in 2020 and the even more infectious surge from the Delta variant in 2021 have created further concerns over NYPB practices.
“Stop-and-frisk is a tactic that brings officers into close contact with members of the public. You’re definitely within six feet of someone if you’re frisking them,” Griffard told The Intercept. “It raises the question as to why the NVPD is still engaging in this policing tactic that’s been shown not to work during a global pandemic.”
While 2021’s crop of mayoral candidates demonstrated a keen awareness of the egregious harms that stop-and-frisk has inflicted they seemed to regard the policy as a problem of the past rather than the present. What that bodes for the future of policing in the city remains to be seen, but activists like Monifa Bendele have no delusions about the current state of affairs. “The racial profiling component of stop-and-frisk in New York has not gone away.”
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