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O My America: Stop-and-Frisk

lawrencebush
May 23, 2013

nypd-stop-and-frisk-2011-infographic-791x1024David Ourlicht, the grandson of our veteran reader, Boris Ourlicht, is one of the lead plaintiffs in Floyd v. City of New York, a federal class-action lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights against the N.Y.P.D.’s stop-and-frisk practices. The trial just concluded its proceedings. In a talk early this month at the Midtown Shule at the Workmen’s Circle in New York, Ourlicht, who is biracial, described the many times he has been stopped and frisked by police since the age of 15 (he is now 25) — “more times than I could count on my fingers or on the cops’ fingers, both,” he said — including as a student at St. John’s University in Queens, and including with guns drawn. “It got to the point where I said that I just can’t do nothing about it any more. I was doing everything I was supposed to do: I was in college, I was doing well, this was not supposed to be happening to me.”

To read the transcript of his testimony in court, click here (David's testimony begins at the bottom of the page labeled "4172" in the upper right corner). To read more about stop-and-frisk and racism, click here.

The police argument is that the stop-and-frisk policy is directly responsible for lowering the rate of street crime and gun crime in New York City by a considerable amount — considerably more than in other cities.

The civil liberties argument is: You can't solve your problems in America by making mass sweeps that drag down the innocent with the guilty — not in the name of fighting terrorism and not in the name of fighting crime. In particular, you can't harass and endanger young black and Hispanic men en masse, based just on their skin color and clothing and "furtive movements," in order to winnow out the small minority of criminals among them — especially not when the result is a lot of arrests for minor infractions (e.g., a joint in the pocket) or for cop-defined infractions ("trespassing") within a race-based system of mass incarceration.

As the trial judge, Shira Scheindlin (profiled by Jeffrey Toobin in this week's New Yorker) put it: "We could stop giving Miranda warnings. That would probably be exciting for reducing crimes. But we don't allow that. So there are a number of things that might reduce crime but they're unconstitutional."

The statistics: The police made more than half a million stops in 2012, 87 percent of the time to detain, question, and search African-Americans and Latinos, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. More than than 89 percent of these stop-and-frisk incidents yielded no charges of any kind, not even a summons. According to the New York Times, 4.4 million such stop-and-frisks took place between 2004 and mid-2012, with less than six percent resulting in an arrest, and with guns found in only 0.14 percent.