Opinion: On Stop-and-Frisk, Change ‘Needs to Happen Now’

A protester at one of many marches over the years against stop-and-frisk. (Photo from Flickr, Creative Commons License)

The controversial stop-and-frisk policy that has led to more than five million people stopped in the streets of New York over the last 11 years –87 percent of them black and Hispanic– “must stop,” the Amsterdam News says in a scathing editorial written by the paper’s publisher and editor in chief, Elinor Ruth Tatum.

And of those who had been stopped, fewer than 5 percent had done anything illegal.

Tatum cites the legal battle unfolding this week in federal court. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is challenging the constitutionality of stop-and-frisk in the class action lawsuit Floyd et al. v. City of New York et al.

While the CCR is not fighting stop-and-frisk as a practice, this lawsuit aims at changing the way the practice is used. At this point, “walking while Black” is a crime in many communities. Just leaving the house makes one a target for stop-and-frisk, and this misuse of power must end.

The editorial also challenges the city to prove the much repeated-claim that stop-and-frisk has led to the sharp decreases in crime.

The city claims that the drop in crime in New York City is due to stop-and-frisk. But where are the numbers to support that claim? There are no credible published studies that show that stop-and-frisk has reduced crime; there is no causality. In fact, in cities where stop-and-frisk is not used as aggressively, there have been similar drops in crime. So what is the real story?

Black and Brown New Yorkers deserve to be treated better. We are all members of this community that we call New York, and for the majority of stops to be of people of color is unjust. What do we tell our children as they leave the house each day? How do we explain to them why they saw their father, brother, uncle or friend spread-eagled against a wall as they were patted down just because they were “walking while Black”?

Tatum welcomes the recent proposals to appoint an independent inspector general to monitor the department, calling it a “significant step in the right direction” though the measure does not have the support of Mayor Bloomberg. The editorial ends with a call to the NYPD to change “the way it polices” and interacts with communities of color.

At one point in time, the police and the community could work together to make our city safer. But today that is so hard when every time you see a police car, you wonder whether you will be stopped and frisked. Change needs to happen, and it needs to happen now. We can’t wait for the next 100,000 stops of people accused of “walking while Black.”

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