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May 03 2012

NYPD’s Racist Stop and Frisk Policy

I’m still working on a speech about America’s criminal injustice system and articles like this make it very easy. The NYPD stopped and frisked 684,330 people in 2011. Well, probably fewer than that as many were frisked multiple times. And the racial makeup of those stops is both predictable and appalling:

In addition to his analysis, the NYCLU also compiled a series of statistics about the “stop and frisk” practices that lends credence to the charges of racial bias:

  • In 2011, 685,724 New Yorkers were stopped by the police, up from 601,285 in 2010.
  • 605,328 were totally innocent (88 per cent).
  • 350,743 were black (53 per cent of stops, relative to 23 per cent of the population).
  • 223,740 were Latino (34 per cent of stops, relative to 29 per cent of the population).
  • 61,805 were white (9 per cent of stops, relative to approximately 47 per cent of the population).

And only .15% of all those stops resulted in gun charges, which is one of the big excuses the police use. The other is drugs, but we know from many studies that whites are as likely to use and sell drugs as blacks or Latinos. The law allows the police to stop and frisk someone for merely acting suspiciously, which is a perfect standard for racist policing. Funny how blacks always look more suspicious than whites do.

17 comments

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  1. 1
    helenaconstantine

    Do you think that it could possibly have anything to do with the fact that the music and other industries that produce popular culture have turned street-corner drug dealer into a cultural icon and that a disproportionate number of teen-agers dress like the drug dealers in music videos, and that the frat boys from Columbia and the white teen-agers who change out of their prep-school uniforms into pants hanging down below their asses and sideways worn baseball caps are so ridiculous looking that the police can discount them as a threat, resulting in a disproportionate number of black teenagers frisked?

  2. 2
    tbp1

    I’m about as white-bread as they come. Even when I was young, very long-haired and kind of hippy looking (yes, I’m that old), the only times I had dealings with cops were a few traffic tickets, and I was in each case actually guilty of whatever minor infraction they stopped me for. On every one of those few occasions, the cop was respectful, called me “sir,” and “Mr.” and gave me my ticket with a minimum of fuss. On a couple of occasions they only gave me a warning ticket.

    By contrast every black male I know has multiple stories of being pulled over for “driving while black.” Usually a simple driver’s license check would send them on their way, but since the stop itself was without real probable cause, I think this constitutes a type of harassment on its own. And in some cases, the cop was insulting and verbally abusive, sometimes threatening. No one I know was actually arrested or beaten, but apparently it came close on some occasions.

    While I don’t enjoy seeing a cop in my rearview mirror any more than anyone else, I have a pretty high level of confidence that I won’t be stopped unless I’ve actually done something wrong, because that is my experience. It’s completely different for a black guy. Really hard for me to fathom, but there it is.

  3. 3
    keithb

    Strangely enough, the percentage of Latino’s seems to be about right, approx. 30%

  4. 4
    DaveL

    Do you think that it could possibly have anything to do with the fact that the music and other industries that produce popular culture have turned street-corner drug dealer into a cultural icon and that a disproportionate number of teen-agers dress like the drug dealers in music videos,

    I might point out that media stereotypes that portray the typical drug dealer as a young black man is, in itself, racist.

    and that the frat boys from Columbia and the white teen-agers who change out of their prep-school uniforms into pants hanging down below their asses and sideways worn baseball caps are so ridiculous looking that the police can discount them as a threat, resulting in a disproportionate number of black teenagers frisked?

    I might point out that to consider white people dressed a certain way as “ridiculous” while considering black people dressed exactly the same way as “a threat” is in itself a racist double standard.

    You can trace a racist pattern of enforcement back to many equally racist attitudes that pervade the culture, but it remains racist.

  5. 5
    timgueguen

    Someone wearing pants 5 sizes too big for them looks ridiculous to me regardless of skin colour.

  6. 6
    Synfandel

    A young man wearing his trousers below his buttocks looks utterly laughable to me. I’m still gobsmacked that anyone actually does this and thinks it looks “cool”. Yet I see it nearly every day. Twenty years ago, if asked to describe the most hilarously ridiculous fashion statement I could imagine, I might well have named this one.

  7. 7
    Synfandel

    And it’s equally ridiculous regardless of the skin tone of the fashion victim.

  8. 8
    Ben P

    You can trace a racist pattern of enforcement back to many equally racist attitudes that pervade the culture, but it remains racist.

    That does raise the question “how do you fix it?”

    I will agree that the police disproportionately stopping people based primarily on their skin color is both racist and wrong.

    But if the statistical imbalance is based on the unconscious cultural perception by both citizens and officers that a young black male on the street wearing certain clothes is more likely to be a threat or to be engaged in some sort of criminal conduct, how exactly are you going to remedy that?

    Do you tell the police officers that “I don’t care if you do think that kid on the street corner is dealing, don’t stop him unless you actually see drugs.” How long before someone complains that “a drug dealer is harassing my kids and the police won’t arrest him because he’s black and they can’t be racist.”

    Or do you tell the cops to go out and hassle white people in equal numbers? I’d like to see that particular directive go out in writing.

    I’m not suggesting the only thing that can be done is to shrug our shoulders, but aside from some sort of decidedly Orwellian sounding “cultural re-education,” what’s the solution?

    this also raises a more controversial question as well. All police work depends to some extent on profiling. A description from a witness is a profile, a kind of behavior is a profile, all of it enables police to pare down their searches to something other than random sampling of the population.

    I don’t think you can reasonably deny that there exists in the United States an urban subculture that glorifies certain types of criminal activity, and that members of the subculture are disproportionately African American. The subculture also has at least a moderately distinctive style of dress and speech.

    As an absolutely open question, because I don’t know the answer, if participation in or membership in a subculture is predominately associated with a racial group, does that subculture likewise become off limits for any type of profile?

  9. 9
    Raging Bee

    Synfandel: a lot of people in the black community agree with you on this, and are making a lot of noise about it. I’ve seen posters in Philly saying “SAGGIN spelled backwrds is NIGGAS!” and “Pull your damn pants up, fool!” There’s broad-based agreement that it looks ridiculous and reinforces some very negative stereotypes about black males (when it’s not creating new ones, of course).

    Twenty years ago, if I saw anyone older than six wearing his trousers below the waist, looking like they could fall down around his ankles any second, I would have concluded he was retarded, because up to then, the only people I ever saw mismanaging their own clothes that badly were, in fact, retarded.

    And it looks even more disgraceful when the wearer has one hand constantly holding his trousers to keep them from falling down; and when his bright yellow smiley-face boxers (or something equally reminiscent of a toddler’s jammies) are plainly visible for all to see.

  10. 10
    Raging Bee

    Do you tell the police officers that “I don’t care if you do think that kid on the street corner is dealing, don’t stop him unless you actually see drugs.” How long before someone complains that “a drug dealer is harassing my kids and the police won’t arrest him because he’s black and they can’t be racist.”

    Um…how ’bout you tell the cops to actually, you know, observe the kid’s behavior and wait until said behavior leads to reasonable suspicions?

    Seriously, cops are good at observing behavior and drawing conclusions independent of racial stereotyping — when the community forces them to, that is.

  11. 11
    Ben P

    Um…how ’bout you tell the cops to actually, you know, observe the kid’s behavior and wait until said behavior leads to reasonable suspicions?

    Seriously, cops are good at observing behavior and drawing conclusions independent of racial stereotyping — when the community forces them to, that is.

    You’re not thinking about this deeply enough or you’re being deliberately naive. What is “reasonable suspicion?”

    Probable cause is “a reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person’s belief that certain facts are probably true”

    The standard for a “terry stop” is that the officer have ““specific and articulable facts” that a crime has been or is about to be committed, but it is based on the “totality of the circumstances.”

    The “totality of the circumstances” inevitably ends up including things like “the suspect was acting nervous and looked at my car several times.” Or “The suspect was standing in a high crime area.”

    Then maybe you have “I observed the suspect standing on the sidewalk for a period of time, a second individual approached the suspect, they briefly retreated into the shadows of an alley and then the third individual continued walking.”

    But what made the cop stop and watch the suspect for 5 minutes in the first place? Do the cops stop and watch every guy standing on the sidewalk? Or do they watch the ones that look “suspicious?”

    How many of the ones that look “suspicious” are going to be the result of unconcious perceptions of the officer that someone looks “suspicious.”

    That’s not how police, or human beings in general, work, and you know it. I’ve stood in a courtroom and heard firsthand all the asinine BS that officers make up to justify why they acted the way they did. Even if the officers are acting totally in good faith (and I’ll freely admit many may not be), most of the time they won’t have a clue why they did what they did.

    So what you plan to do is tell the officers “don’t stop people you actually see them do something suspicious.” It will hardly change a thing, because it ends up meaning is “6 hours after you stopped someone, you better be able to come up with a reason other than “my gut said this kid looked suspicious.”

    I’ve stood in a courtroom and listened to the asinine justifications that Officers make up to justify why their gut

  12. 12
    syskill

    Um… something is very, very wrong with the Toronto Standard’s figures. If NYC’s population breakdown was really 23% black, 47% white, and 29% Latino, then logically Asians couldn’t be more than 1%. That can’t possibly be right.

    OIC, the graphic at the top of the article (credited to the NYCLU) shows that the 47% figure includes whites, Asians, and Native Americans. The article glosses over that detail tho’.

  13. 13
    richardelguru

    It’s that old ‘I was taking a crap when someone shouted “Fire!” look’

  14. 14
    ryanmannik

    Are people seriously still complaining about baggy pants? It’s been like 20 years! Get over it, grandpas.

  15. 15
    Dr X

    While I don’t support stop and frisk, the numbers don’t actually matter. The point is to focus stop and frisk in moving crime hot spots to create an atmosphere in which carrying a weapon or drugs seem like legally high-risk propositions. Why are the numbers skewed heavily black and Hispanic (really Puerto Rican)? Because the high crime hot spots in NYC are invariably in black and Latino neighborhoods. Why is there a higher hit rate on white’s holding when stopped and frisked? Because usually whites in high-crime black neighborhoods stand out like a sore thumb as drug buyers.

    Why are New Yorkers okay with this policy? Because many remember a time when crime was ridiculously out of control in New York. I was mugged, I had numerous friends and family members mugged, my grandfather was out walking his little dog when a half dozen piece of shit teenagers set upon him, beat the living crap out of him and left him without pants, to add insult to injury. My aunt’s next door neighbor’s home was invaded and she was serially raped and beaten for hours in her own home. People were shooting, mugging, stabbing, stealing and committing home invasion-rapes almost at will. People had 4 or 5 deadbolts on single doors in their home. You had to look over shoulder everywhere. The cops were corrupt and totally ineffectual. This is why almost everyone in liberal New York City sided with Bernie Goetz when he shot those little pieces of shit on the subway. Kids like that were terrorizing the daylights out of New Yorkers. The thugs owned the city. Everyone at that time had personal encounters with what happens when thugs think they aren’t at risk for arrest.

  16. 16
    Matrim

    Now, now. The policy isn’t racist, it’s just unconstitutional (as I see it, anyway). The police that utilize it are racist…there’s nothing in the policy that wouldn’t allow everyone’s rights to be violated equally. That said, man…police there (and in most places in general) be ridiculous racist.

  17. 17
    democommie

    Dr. X.:

    Bernie Goetz was wrong. He shot people because he was pissed off and scared of people THAT color. He should have gone to jail but, like O.J. Simpson’s, his trial was more about what was going on outside the courtroom than the criminal case that was being tried. Like O.J., Goetz got away with felonious assault and, but for being a bad shot, murder. He reacted to being mugged in 1981 by shooting 4 other people, several years later, who were the same color, more or less, of his attackers. Isn’t what he did more about misplaced vengance than anything else?

    I agree that NYC was (and still can be) a very dangerous place to live, work and visit. It’s also true that the NYPD polices the areas AROUND problem neighborhoods differently. If they really want to cut back on the whites buying drugs in those problem neighborhoods why not just require that all whites be stopped, frisked and questioned when they are encountered in those neighborhoods and, further, that any without a reasonable explanation for being there, be held for further interrogation? Sauce for the goose and all that.

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