‘Guilty until proven innocent’ is one of the many ways to describe the illegal, unconstitutional, immoral, indecent and egregious NYC Police policy of “stop and frisk”. This program was initiated in 2002 as a means to combat crime and decrease gun violence. Properly defined, the policy is formalized in the NY State Criminal Procedure Law (section 140.50) and states that a police officer, who reasonably suspects a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a felony or Penal Law misdemeanor, may stop and question that person. If the police officer reasonably suspects the stopped person has a weapon, the officer may then frisk the suspect.
One need not even mention race to appreciate the blatant violation of personal property and individual liberty that this policy infringes on. The dangerous language used to justify ‘stop and frisk’ eliminates the requirement that an actual crime has been committed. Only a presumption is needed, and this presumption is not based on objective facts, but the subjective perception of the police officer acting on their own whims. This point has been validated since, according to the NYPD themselves, the overwhelming majority of those stopped were found to be totally innocent. In 2012, 89% were subsequently found to be innocent; in 2011, 88%; in 2010, 86%. This trend dates all the way back to 2002, when the program initially started. Essentially, the tactic has a fail rate of 90%. What if I told you that, as a doctor, I would incorrectly diagnose you 90% of the time? What if the disclaimer on all new vehicles promised that the cars would not work 90% of the time? What would you think of a new laptop that crashes 90% of the time?
In a free society, citizens have the right to go about their affairs without the intrusive eye and molestation of Big Brother. This tactic is a deliberate violation of the freedom of all people. Above all else, the most egregious tenet of the ‘stop and frisk’ program is its prejudicial premise that certain citizens are guilty—a judgment enacted without proof, deliberation or due process. The NYPD first accuses you without any tangible evidence, and then violates your person in order to backup their malicious and unfounded claims. What if I accused you of peddling child pornography, and then proceeded to ransack your office, home, and violate your personal space, only to find nothing and then declare your innocence? What if I told you all the embarrassment and shame you experienced was necessary “for the public good” and to “fight crime?” What if, in order to “combat crime”, I installed a police officer at the front of every door in Manhattan, and these officers pulled a gun on every person who “didn’t look right” — after all, that would deter criminals, right? What if, depending on what you look like and what part of the city you live in, the likelihood that I stop you on the street, harass and mistreat you is substantially higher than if you looked different and lived in another part of the city? What if I did all this on private property, while you were minding your own business in the halls of your apartment complex?
Alas, the racially discriminatory effects of the program becomes apparent—race has been proven to be the dominant factor in determining who is stopped and frisked, after controlling for crime rates. In 2011, the NYPD reported 685,724 stops. 84% of those people were either Black or Latino, even though these groups only constitute 23% and 29% of NYC’s population, respectively.1 One counter-argument states that the racial disparity in the stops reflects the disparity in those committing violent crimes, but in 2011, only 10.5% of cops recorded “violent criminal activity” as justification for their stops. Even in neighborhoods that are predominantly white, the program disproportionately targets Black and Latino men.
Consider these alarming facts:
· Since Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2003, the NYPD’s number of ‘stop and frisks’ has increased 600%. Since the majority of those stopped are innocent, the NYPD is increasingly stopping more innocent people each year.
· Operation Clean Halls (started in the 1990s) allows the police to enter private property to conduct stop and frisk searches in the hallways with the consent of the building’s landlord.
· In 2011, more young black men were stopped by the NYPD than there are young black men in NYC.
· In 2011, a weapon was found in 1.9% of all people frisked; a weapon was found in 1.8% of blacks; of whites, 3.8%.
· 6% of those stopped in 2011 were arrested.
· In 2002, of those stopped (97,837), 54% (52,803) were frisked; in 2011, 56% of those stopped were frisked.
In 2011, force was used in a disproportionally larger number of Black (76,483) and Latino (53,107) stops compared to Whites (9,765).The stop and frisk program fails a vast majority of the time, but does it have any legitimate effect on crime, as the powers-that-be proclaim? Absolutely not. The data reveals that the policy does not take guns off the street since weapons are found less than 2% of the time. It doesn’t cut down on murders or victims of gunfire either: take, for instance, the number of murders in NYC—587 homicides in 2002 when 97,296 stops took place, compared to 532 homicides on 2011 when 685,725 stops took place. In 2002, there were 1,892 victims of gunfire and in 2011 there were 1,821 victims of gunfire. Finally, it does not reduce crime, nor does it make people safer. Violent crime did fall in NYC (29%) from 2001 to 2011, but other large cities experienced large drops in violent crime without ‘stop and frisk’ tactics: Los Angeles (59%), New Orleans (56%), Dallas (49%), and Baltimore (37%).2
So what should you if you are stopped? The New York ACLU (http://www.nyclu.org/node/3249) provides an excellent reference online but here are the key points:
· Everything you say is relevant, and can be used against you.
· You NEVER have to consent to a search of yourself, belongings, car or home.
· You CANNOT be arrested simply for refusing to consent to a search.
· Express your refusal explicitly by saying, “I do not consent to this search.”
· Ask if you are under arrest or free to leave.
· In the state of New York, citizens are not required to carry ID and you are not required to show ID to a police officer.
· NEVER, EVER bad-mouth the police officer, don’t put your hands on them, don’t obstruct them in any way, and especially don’t run away. Even if (and you probably are innocent, these actions could lead to your arrest.
A recent study by William P Ruger and Jason Sorens of George Mason University (freedominthe50states.org) ranked New York as the least-free State in the Union—and with policies like stop and frisk, this is hardly a surprise.
Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal
1 Census Bureau (http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml) Table DP-1. Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000, Geographic Area: New York City, NY.
2 New York Civil Liberties Union (http://www.nyclu.org/node/1598)