Starting in the 1990s, the New York City Police Department took a curious approach to curb crime. They decided to lower violent crime by targeting the public for minor offenses. For this purpose, the New York police used its stop-and-frisk program to pull aside and pat down seemingly suspicious residents. As the years passed, however, the police appeared to be indiscriminately stopping and frisking large swaths of the population. In 2002, for example, police made fewer than 100,000 stops. By 2011, approximately 700,000 police stops took place. Because the overwhelming majority of those stopped were black or Hispanic men, civil liberties groups have argued that the stop-and-frisk program amounts to racial profiling. In May 2012, United States District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin agreed by giving class-action rank to a suit alleging that race dictated which residents the New York Police Department targeted for stops and frisks. The evidence to support this is staggering.
More Blacks and Latinos Stopped Than Whites
The sheer number of African Americans and Latinos stopped by NYPD alone makes the case for racial profiling. They composed 87 percent of individuals pulled aside by police in 2011. Young men of color surfaced as primary targets. Officers stopped 168,126 black males between the ages of 14 and 24. Not only is that number staggering, it’s also larger than the actual number of black males in that age group who make up New York City’s population—158,406.
One could argue that police targeted blacks and Hispanics more than whites because more crime takes place in communities of color. The New York Civil Liberties Union found, however, that even in neighborhoods where blacks and Latinos made up 14 percent or less of the population, police targeted them for 70 percent of stops.
Law-Abiding Citizens Targeted
Outrage over NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program doesn’t just derive from the fact that black and Latino men have been disproportionately singled out. There’s also the fact that the overwhelming majority of people police have pulled aside did nothing wrong. Ninety percent of those stopped in 2011 were neither arrested nor summoned by police. To boot, just 5.37 percent of stops between 2004 and 2009 yielded an arrest. In 2009, about 36 percent of officers couldn’t point to a suspected crime that led them to pull someone aside. Although police are required to have a reasonable suspicion that the person stopped has engaged in unlawful activity, that clearly hasn’t been the case. Evidently little more than skin color gives officers a hint that the person they stopped is a criminal. What’s more, police have consistently targeted minorities rather than whites for stops and frisks even though whites were the group most likely to be armed. According to the NYCLU, police found weapons on 3.8 percent of whites and on 1.8 percent of minorities stopped.
Frisks and Force
Blacks and Latinos weren’t just more likely to be stopped by police but also to be frisked by officers and subjected to physical force. The NYPD used force on 22.5 percent of blacks and Latinos, but on just 15.8 percent of whites. Given that most of the men stopped were innocent, this is an especially worrisome development.
No Solid Link to Crime Reduction
The main justification New York City officials have given for its expansive stop-and-frisk program is that it reduces crime. That assertion remains in dispute, though. Although the NYPD has increased stops and frisks nearly sevenfold from 2002 to 2011, the murder rate has hardly changed. In 2002, 587 homicides occurred in New York City. In 2011, 532 murders did. Given how little the homicide rate has changed, it’s difficult to convincingly argue that stops and frisks lower crime.
“There is no evidence that stop and frisk is lowering or suppressing the murder rate in New York City,” NYCLU spokesman Chris Dunn stated. “Murders have dropped steadily since 1990.”
In addition, the New York Times pointed out that crime has dropped in a number of cities that don’t engage in stop and frisk, casting doubt on whether New York City really is safer now because of the practice. For men of color, the city likely feels less safe and more hostile.