Stop-and-Frisk Ruling: Lines That We Want on T-Shirts

(The Root) — In a decision today, a federal court deemed the New York City Police Department's use of its stop-and-frisk tactic "indirect racial profiling" that allowed police officers to unfairly target blacks and Hispanics far more than whites. More to the point: U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin said it was unconstitutional, accused city officials of turning a blind eye and ordered major fixes and oversight.

And she said it well. Here are some of the highlights you won't want to miss — and might even find yourself repeating — from her takedown of the deeply flawed crime-fighting tactic.


The basic disparity:

The New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) made 4.4 million stops between January 2004 and June 2012. Over 80% of these 4.4 million stops were of blacks or Hispanics. 

Which, of couse, has a human side: 

In each of these stops a person’s life was interrupted.

Here's how stop and frisk as currently used is a disaster for black and brown people:

First, as reflected in Dr. Fagan’s Table 5, the NYPD carries out more stops in areas with more black and Hispanic residents, even when other relevant variables are held constant …

Here's another way: 

Second, as reflected in Dr. Fagan’s Table 7, within any area, regardless of its racial composition, blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be stopped than whites.


And even another way of looking at it:

Third, for the period 2004 through 2009, blacks who were subject to law enforcement action following their stop were about 30% more likely than whites to be arrested (as opposed to receiving a summons) after a stop for the same suspected crime, even after controlling for other relevant variables.


Don't say "but it works." That has nothing to do with whether it's constitutional:

I emphasize at the outset, as I have throughout the litigation, that this case is not about the effectiveness of stop and frisk in deterring or combating crime. This Court’s mandate is solely to judge the constitutionality of police behavior, not its effectiveness as a law enforcement tool.  Many police practices may be useful for fighting crime — preventive detention or coerced confessions, for example — but because they are unconstitutional they cannot be used, no matter how effective.


Seriously, no one should have to live this way:

While it is true that any one stop is a limited intrusion in duration and deprivation of liberty, each stop is also a demeaning and humiliating experience. No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life. Those who are routinely subjected to stops are overwhelmingly people of color, and they are justifiably troubled to be singled out when many of them have done nothing to attract the unwanted attention.


And race doesn't change that:

The City and its highest officials believe that blacks and Hispanics should be stopped at the same rate as their proportion of the local criminal suspect population. But this reasoning is flawed because the stopped population is overwhelmingly innocent — not criminal.  


Get it? People are individuals. With individual rights, and criminal records (or lack thereof):

There is no basis for assuming that an innocent population shares the same characteristics as the criminal suspect population in the same area.


Wild guess about who the NYPD decided "the right people" were.

In addition, the evidence at trial revealed that the NYPD has an unwritten policy of targeting “the right people” for stops. In practice, the policy encourages the targeting of young black and Hispanic men based on their prevalence in local crime complaints. This is a form of racial profiling. 


Oh, so anything one of the "right people" did with their eyes or body was suspicious. Convenient.

One example of poor training is particularly telling. Two officers testified to their understanding of the term “furtive movements.” One explained that “furtive movement is a very broad concept,” and could include a person “changing direction,” “walking in a certain way,” “[a]cting a little suspicious,” “making a movement that is not regular,” being “very fidgety,” “going in and out of his pocket,” “going in and out of a location,” “looking back and forth constantly,” “looking over their shoulder,” “adjusting their hip or their belt,” “moving in and out of a car too quickly,” “[t]urning a part of their body away from you,” “[g]rabbing at a certain pocket or something at their waist,” “getting a little nervous, maybe shaking,” and “stutter[ing].” Another officer explained that “usually” a furtive movement is someone “hanging out in front of [a] building, sitting on the benches or something like that” and then making a “quick movement,” such as “bending down and quickly standing back up,” “going inside the lobby … and then quickly coming back out,” or “all of a sudden becom[ing] very nervous, very aware.”


The worst part is, the NYPD didn't seem to mind what was happening.

With respect to both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims, one way to prove that the City has a custom of conducting unconstitutional stops and frisks is to show that it acted with deliberate indifference to constitutional deprivations caused by its employees — here, the NYPD. The evidence at trial revealed significant evidence that the NYPD acted with deliberate indifference.  


Unfortunately for the NYPD, we have a Constitution. And it was violated.

In conclusion, I find that the City is liable for violating plaintiffs’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  The City acted with deliberate indifference toward the NYPD’s practice of making unconstitutional stops and conducting unconstitutional frisks. 


Things are going to have to change. Now.

To address the violations that I have found, I shall order various remedies including, but not limited to, an immediate change to certain policies and activities of the NYPD, a trial program requiring the use of body-worn cameras in one precinct per borough, a community-based joint remedial process to be conducted by a court-appointed facilitator, and the appointment of an independent monitor to ensure that the NYPD’s conduct of stops and frisks is carried out in accordance with the Constitution and the principles enunciated in this Opinion, and to monitor the NYPD’s compliance with the ordered remedies


Read the full decision here (pdf).