Midwest Voices

New York’s stop-and-frisk is unfair

Updated: 2013-09-07T21:55:11Z

By ROGER C. WILLIAMS JR.

Midwest Voices

As a man who has endured the misfortune of being racially profiled, I was delighted to learn recently that Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the New York Police Department’s use of the tactic stop-and-frisk is “unconstitutional.”

Many in the minority community believe stop-and-frisk is an invasion of privacy and an example of racial profiling. However, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has an opposing view. Appearing as a guest on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and other talk shows on the Sunday after the ruling, he defended the work of his officers and claimed the judge’s decision was based on too small of a sample.

Furthermore, he dismissed the idea that stop-and-frisk is discriminatory. But, anyone looking beyond his vigorous defense will notice that the New York Civil Liberties Union has published data that challenge his opinion. According to the data, black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of stop-and-frisk. In 2012, New Yorkers were stopped by police 532,911 times; 284,229 were black (55 percent); 165,140 were Latino (32 percent); 50,366 were white (10 percent).

If the fact that 87 percent of those stopped-and-frisked were minority does not raise concerns, then please consider that the New York Police Department’s own records revealed that nearly nine out of 10 of the New Yorkers who were stopped-and-frisked were totally innocent (89 percent). This compelling data suggest that minorities are paying a high price to keep New Yorkers and tourists safe.

Upset over the ruling, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg lashed out at Judge Sheindlin in a statement to New Yorkers, “Your safety and the safety of your kids is now in the hands of some woman who does not have the expertise to do it.” And Police Commissioner Kelly predicted that violent crime will rise.

The responses to the ruling made by Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly remind me that sometimes leaders can become so committed to achieving the goals of their policies until they either don’t realize or choose to ignore the effect of their policies on some of the people they claim to be serving. When asked about the number of blacks and Latinos stopped-and-frisked, Commissioner Kelly indicated that a high percentage of the violent crimes in New York occur in the communities where blacks and Latinos live.

He believed the actions of the officers were helping to keep the residents of these communities safe. Taken to another level, Commissioner Kelly’s comments regarding stop-and-frisk sound a lot like the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s doctrine of Utilitarianism — actions that produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. There is no doubt that New York is a much safer city now than in past years.

But, 89 percent of the people who have been subjected to stop-and-frisk were innocent in 2012. Perhaps this sad statistic will change now that Judge Scheindlin has appointed a federal monitor to oversee use of the tactic stop-and-frisk.

This ruling could cause racial profiling to become a misfortune that minorities will no longer be legally required to endure.

Roger C. Williams Jr., Ed.D., of Lee’s Summit, is a retired principal, counselor and instrumental music teacher. To reach him, send email to oped@kcstar.com or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.

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