In what should have been a no-brainer, federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that the New York Police Department’s tactics of stop-and-frisk violated the constitutional rights of minorities. This deals a major blow to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s legacy of crime fighting. In fact, seeing that the judge ruled the tactics unconstitutional, it appears the only criminal activity was being done by law enforcement at the behest of the New York City mayor. The New York Times reports:
In a blistering decision issued on Monday, the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, found that the Police Department had “adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling” that targeted young minority men for stops. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the city would appeal the ruling, angrily accusing the judge of deliberately not giving the city “a fair trial.” The mayor cited the benefits of stop-and-frisk, crediting the tactic for making the city safer and for ridding the streets of thousands of illegal guns. But in her ruling, Judge Scheindlin found that in doing so, the police systematically stopped innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. The stops, which soared in number over the last decade as crime continued to decline, demonstrated a widespread disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, as well as the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, according to the 195-page decision.
The judge didn’t stop with criticism of police officers. She held the city liable for battery of constitutional violations. While the police dismissed allegations of racial profiling as “a myth created by the media,” Judge Scheindlin said they were definitely using the stop-and-frisk tactics in order to deter minorities from carrying guns on the street.
“I also conclude that the city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” she wrote. “Blacks are likely targeted for stops based on a lesser degree of objectively founded suspicion than whites,” she added.
However, the issue is not about race, but about breaking the law. New York Police and the city officials endorsed and engaged in this criminal activity. Judge Scheindlin also went on to write, “The outline of a commonly carried object such as a wallet or cellphone does not justify a stop or frisk, nor does feeling such an object during a frisk justify a search.” Scheindlin characterized each stop as “a demeaning and humiliating experience” which she spoke of as being the “human toll of unconstitutional stops.”
As a result of the stops, many of the plaintiffs said that they didn’t even feel like they belonged or were supposed to be in certain parts of the city. “No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life,” the judge wrote. During police stops, she found, blacks and Hispanics “were more likely to be subjected to the use of force than whites, despite the fact that whites are more likely to be found with weapons or contraband.”
The police made some 4.43 million stops between 2004 and mid-2012. Many of these stops often resulted in frisking for weapons and contraband. Overwhelmingly they included young black and Hispanic men. In fact, it was Blacks and Hispanics that were stopped 88 percent of the time. Once the frisk was performed, the detainment ended with police letting the person go due to lack of evidence of criminality. The police, of course, sought to rationalize their criminal activity by saying that it mirrored the disproportionate percentage of crimes committed by young minority men, but the judge would have none of it.
“This might be a valid comparison if the people stopped were criminals,” Judge Scheindlin wrote. “To the contrary, nearly 90 percent of the people stopped are released without the officer finding any basis for a summons or arrest.” “Targeting young black and Hispanic men for stops based on the alleged criminal conduct of other young black or Hispanic men violates bedrock principles of equality,” Judge Scheindlin ruled.
Judge Scheindlin determined that the Police Department’s practices violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Now the question is what will be done about the criminals in the police department and in the city’s government? My guess is that those who were violated go after them individually without settling, that nothing will happen. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg weighed in on the ruling.
Tim Brown is the Editor of Freedom Outpost and a regular contributor to The D.C. Clothesline.