NY Post’s Epic Fail on Stop and Frisk

The paper's attempt to link a rise in gun violence to the ban on the tactic is horribly flawed.

NYPD officers stop three individuals in January (Joe Marino/Getty Images)
NYPD officers stop three individuals in January (Joe Marino/Getty Images)

(The Root) — If you’ve ever been pulled over by an officer, taken an introduction to philosophy course or had a no-excuses parent, you know there are some strategies that never fly when you are debating. There are certain types of reasoning for rebuttal that just don’t work. Enter the New York Post story by Jamie Schram and Kirstan Conley, “Gun Crime Up After Stop-and-Frisk Ruling,” an article that takes several missteps in trying to establish causality between the repeal of stop and frisk and an increase in crime in New York City.

“Post hoc ergo propter hoc” is Latin for a common logical fallacy that first-year law students learn and love. Loosely translated, it means “after this therefore because of this.” An example is telling a police officer that the reason you were speeding was that the truck driver was driving too slow. This type of reasoning may work in schoolyards but has no place in the urgent stop-and-frisk debate.

The secondary headline of the New York Post article states, “The recent ruling against stop-and-frisk has emboldened the city’s pistol-packing perps.” Connecting the ruling and the “pistol-packing perps” in a desperate attempt to establish a correlation between gun violence and stop and frisk is flawed. Also, a link between the court ruling and criminal intent (“emboldened”? Really?) is impossible to establish from any present research. Basically, a pistol-packing perp was a pistol-packing perp before and after any ruling for or against stop and frisk.

In statistical analysis, just because you have data does not necessarily mean that said data is relevant or validates your argument. Sometimes in research, in an exhaustive attempt to support your thesis, you may try to use data fragments, skewed sampling or non sequiturs to affirm your assumptions when, again, there really is no correlation. “During the 28 days ending Sept. 8, there were 140 shootings across the Big Apple, compared with 124 during the same period last year, the figures show.”

I have been accused of being cynical more times than I care to mention. However, this time I feel my response to this statistic is appropriate: 16 more shootings in a 30-day period in this analysis elicits from me a “So what?” Modern-era research investigating gun violence finds increases and decreases are more attributable to a wide range of social, economic and psychological factors than any one court ruling for or against stop and frisk.

Second, can a brother get a source, can a black man get a citation when you throw figures around? Sorry that I digress, but the authors use unnamed sources for quotes in the article and data citations. The story continues with “And the number of gunshot victims was up more than 9 percent, with 164 people struck by bullets this year, compared with 150 shot over that month last year.” Again, this data does not validate the narrative of the headline and is really another “so what” in my mind.