Back to All Commentary

Column: NYPD Frisk Bigotry Must Stop (New York Metro)

By Donna Lieberman — Quinn James, a young African-American man from Bushwick, has no criminal record. Yet he says he has been stopped by police at least a half-dozen times over the past year. The confrontations upset James, but they don’t surprise him.

People get stopped and frisked by police every day. But it’s not a universal experience. Tourists can wander Times Square without interference. Police pat-downs are uncommon on the Upper East Side or in Greenwich Village. But for residents of communities of color, being stopped and questioned or patted down by the police is a fact of life.

Between January 2006 and September 2007, the New York Police Department stopped and frisked 867,617 New Yorkers — a startling rate of 1,360 every day. Almost 90 percent of those stopped were innocent.

And the racial disparities are stark: Police stopped 453,042 blacks and only 94,530 whites.

The NYPD hired the Rand Corporation to assess racial disparity in the department’s “stop-and-frisk” practices using electronic data that is being withheld from the public and the City Council.

The 80-page study acknowledges racial tilt, but fails to see this as a systemic problem, concluding that the statistics “distort the magnitude” and “exaggerate racial disparities.”

The Rand study ignores its own finding that the NYPD conducts twice as many stops as national statistics would project for a city of our size. To conclude there is no systemic racial bias, it uses a small, skewed selection of stops. And though the report acknowledges that racial bias is most likely to appear in stops based on police officers’ observations rather than on suspect descriptions, the Rand Corporation didn’t bother to analyze those encounters.

When Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced a review of the stop-and-frisk data following the shooting death of Sean Bell, many New Yorkers hoped it signaled a commitment by the NYPD to address racial profiling. But instead we’ve received a thinly veiled rationale for the status quo.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has had to file a lawsuit challenging the department’s refusal to make public the electronic database that is vital to a full analysis. Excessive and racially lopsided stop-and-frisk practices create resentment and mistrust.

Transparency and discourse are the only way to solve this problem and build trust in law enforcement.

Donna Lieberman is executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union