Stop and Frisk Violated Rights, Judge Rules

The practice led to a disregard for Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Opponents of NYC's stop-and-frisk policy rally in 2012. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Opponents of NYC's stop-and-frisk policy rally in 2012. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

(The Root) — In a pair of rulings announced Monday morning, a federal judge found that the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics violated the constitutional rights of the city’s minorities and must be dramatically overhauled and aggressively monitored. 

In the decision, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that police officers have for years systematically stopped innocent people in the street without any reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. The initiative allowed police officers to stop and typically frisk tens of thousands of mostly black and Latino young men but produced few arrests or even citations. The practice, the judge found, led to a disregard for the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments, which protect against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government and provide equal protection under the law to all.

“Today is a victory for all New Yorkers,” attorneys representing the two groups of black and Latino men at the center of the cases said in a statement released early Monday. “After more than 5 million stops conducted under the current administration, hundreds of thousands of them illegal and discriminatory, the NYPD has finally been held accountable. It is time for the City to stop denying the problem and work with the community to fix it.”

The court’s orders are both broad and specific and written to address a long-running set of concerns for blacks and Latinos in New York City. But Scheindlin’s opinion also appeared to take into consideration the impact that her ruling may have on the national landscape: Over the course of more than 200 pages, she linked the program to a range of social ills, including the disproportionate arrest and incarceration of black and Latino men in the United States and the persistence of stereotypes about who is prone to criminal behavior. Scheindlin’s opinion also referred directly to George Zimmerman’s acquittal, Trayvon Martin’s untimely death and President Obama’s impromptu speech after the Zimmerman verdict about race, suspicion and his own experiences with racial profiling.

“No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life,” Scheindlin wrote. To help her come to a decision, the judge relied on a statistical analysis presented at trial that found that the racial composition of a census tract played a role in predicting how the department would apply the practice.

But the judge stopped short of ending the practice. “The purpose of the remedies addressed in this opinion is to ensure that the practice is carried out in a manner that protects the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, while still providing much needed police protection,” she wrote.

The Judge vs. the Mayor

Even before today’s ruling, Scheindlin, a Clinton appointee to the federal bench, had faced blistering criticism from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city’s Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and conservative advocates of racial profiling in police work. Just before 2 p.m. Monday, Bloomberg and Kelly held a joint press conference to respond to the court’s ruling. Both men described the ruling as an insult and an error that will do major damage to the NYPD’s efforts to fight crime. 

“She ignored the program’s crime-fighting capacity,” Bloomberg said of Scheindlin, ” … and the fact that stops line up with crime statistics … People have a right to walk down the street without being targeted by the police, but people also have a right to walk down the street without being killed or mugged.”