(Special to The Root) — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently made a disturbing revelation about the New York City Police Department’s policy of stopping pedestrians and forcibly searching their bodies for weapons. He revealed that police do not actually expect to find any weapons.
In the wake of new data showing that New York City’s stop-and-frisk encounters turned up one gun every 3,000 stops (or 0.03 percent of the time), Bloomberg compared the policy to a highway sobriety checkpoint. He argued that the program acts as a deterrent to crime, so it cannot be judged by its rate of success.
But for the majority of people who walk away without a charge, the experience serves only to undercut trust in the police who are sworn to protect them. The experience is an invasion of privacy, a humiliation and a stinging reminder of how police resources are being diverted away from solving homicides, rapes and other violent crimes to support an ineffective and racially biased practice.
Comparing police officers to officers at a checkpoint is both dangerous and misleading. Sobriety checkpoints are legal only because they are entirely random: Police must stop every car or every second, third or fourth car, and so on. This prevents any danger of profiling drivers based on stereotypes of race, gender and ethnicity.
With stop and frisk, there is no such mechanism in place. More than half of the stops in 2011 were justified in police ledgers as a response to “furtive movements.” This ambiguity leaves little room for accountability at any level and significant room to illegally profile.
A recent New York Civil Liberties Union report showed that 87 percent of those stopped by the NYPD were African American or Latino, even though those groups were less likely than whites to be found with a weapon. Ninety percent of African Americans and Latinos stopped were innocent of any legal infraction.
There is no reason that people of color need more deterrence than any other racial group in the city. It would seem that the NYPD is trying to instill more fear in one section of the population over another — a demographic that has less political clout and less means to defend itself from bullying.