Judge of Federal District Court in New York upheld the bedrock principle of individual liberty on Monday when she ruled that the tactics underlying ’s program violated the constitutional rights of minority citizens. She found that the city had been “deliberately indifferent” to police officers illegally detaining and frisking minority residents on the streets over many years.
Judge Scheindlin was clearly speaking of Mayor when she concluded: “The City’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner. In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of singling out “the right people” is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution.”
The judge made clear that she was not striking down the program — which remains an important tool for law enforcement — but requiring the city to use that tool in a way that does not discriminate against African-Americans and Hispanics and that comports with constitutional guarantees against unreasonable search and . Given the city’s refusal to alter its practices significantly, Judge Scheindlin had little choice but to appoint an outside monitor to oversee sweeping changes in how the trains its officers and carries out the stop-and-frisk policy.
Under the Fourth Amendment, police officers can legally stop and detain a person only when they have a reasonable suspicion that the person is committing, has committed or is about to commit a crime. Over the years, however, the Police Department has adopted a strategy that encourages cops to stop and question mainly minority citizens first and to come up with reasons for having done so later. This has resulted in people in some neighborhoods being stopped without reason scores of times a year. These unconstitutional stops, Judge Scheindlin wrote, have exacted a “human toll” in demeaning and humiliating law-abiding citizens. She is currently overseeing three lawsuits against this troubled program. The ruling issued on Monday, in Floyd v. The City of New York, was filed by plaintiffs alleging racial profiling in street stops.
At the heart of the Floyd case are statistics showing that the city conducted an astounding 4.4 million stops between January 2004 and June 2012. Of these, only 6 percent resulted in arrests and 6 percent resulted in summonses. In other words, 88 percent of the 4.4 million stops resulted in no further action — meaning a vast majority of those stopped were doing nothing wrong. More than half of all people stopped were frisked, yet only 1.5 percent of frisks found weapons. In about 83 percent of cases, the person stopped was black or Hispanic, even though the two groups accounted for just over half the population.Continue reading the main story
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton provided her criminal justice proposals Friday afternoon, including calling for the elimination of racial profiling.
Federal agencies, such as the FBI, are already prohibited from targeting suspects based on race — with an exception for airports and border crossings.
Clinton would extend this ban to cover state and local police forces. And given that racial profiling is quite unpopular among Americans, it could seem like a winning issue, politically.
But there is a counter-argument, which has been articulated by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg in defense of the city’s “stop and frisk” program, namely that sometimes racial profiling can be a necessary part of effective law enforcement.
What’s the argument against racial profiling?
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When police start targeting people based on their race, it effectively puts a whole community under suspicion. What is more, it virtually guarantees that the innocent will regularly find themselves stopped by police, for little reason beyond the color of their skin.
Racial profiling can also poison relations between police and the populace. When minority groups feel that they’re under constant suspicion, they’re less likely to entrust police with information that can be vital to solving crimes. This is one reason some law enforcement groups oppose racial profiling.
Why do some police forces still profile?
The principal job of any police force is to keep communities safe. If police genuinely believe that the greatest threats come from one particular racial or ethnic group, they might heighten their scrutiny of that group.
New York’s now-curtailed “stop and frisk” program provides a good example. At its height, the program allowed police to question, and potentially search, any pedestrians they deemed suspicious.
Overwhelmingly, though, it seems to have targeted African-Americans. In 2012, more than half of those stopped were African-American, even though that group makes up just a quarter of the city’s population.
When pressed on this point, however, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg insisted that there’s a good reason: Black residents are also disproportionately involved in crime.
By this logic, asking officers to stop more white and Hispanic citizens, just to match the city’s overall population, would be a willful waste of resources. Police should pay more attention to minority groups if those groups are more commonly involved in criminal activities.
What do the American people think?
A large majority of Americans are opposed to racial profiling, according to poll numbers. A Reason magazine survey from last year, asking people how they felt about stopping drivers and pedestrians based on their racial or ethnic background, found that 70 percent disapproved.
An older Gallup poll suggests that opposition is slimmer when you ask about profiling in airports, but even then a majority of Americans stand opposed.
Are there laws against racial profiling?
At the federal level, the rules are quite strict. Agencies such as the FBI and Immigration enforcement can’t target people based on their race, religion, national origin, or gender — except at airports and near border crossings.
Elsewhere, though, the laws are more patchwork.
For years, a comprehensive “End Racial Profiling Act” has been floating through Congress, one which would ban the practice across the country. But for now, racial profiling is still permitted in some places.
According to the NAACP, there are 20 states that do not explicitly ban racial profiling, and many others where the ban is incomplete or inadequate.
Massachusetts, for its part, has some provisions to track police interactions and watch for evidence of profiling, though there have been efforts to strengthen those initiatives.
Will Clinton’s plan become law?
There’s a big difference between a campaign pledge and an actual ban on racial profiling. Before she can turn her rhetoric into reality, Hillary Clinton still has to win the nomination, then the presidency, and then convince Congress to pass a bill (this isn’t the kind of thing that would be easy to do via executive order).
But campaigns often run on a very different kind of logic. It’s not just that becoming president would help Hillary Clinton enact her criminal justice plans. It’s that announcing those plans may win her new support among voters and help her win the presidency.Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the U.S. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz.