NYPD Stop and Frisk Ruled Unconstitutional

Stephen Lendman
Activist Post

Longstanding NYPD stop and frisk practices are flagrantly racist. They violate constitutional privacy rights. People of color are systematically targeted.

Hundreds of thousands of law abiding residents are persecuted. According to New York’s ACLU, mostly minority “New Yorkers (were) subjected to police stops and interrogations more than 4 million times since 2002.”

NYPD records prove it. Precinct-by-precinct database information includes stops, frisks, use of force, and weapons recovered.

On August 12, US District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Shira Scheindlin issued a landmark decision.

Her 195-page ruling was scathing. She said NYPD “adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling.”

“The New York City Police Department (“NPPD”) made 4.4 million stops between January 2004 and June 2012.” Personal lives were wrongfully “interrupted.”

Doing so “violated their constitutional rights in two ways:

(1) they were stopped without a legal basis in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and

(2) they were targeted for stops because of their race in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Limits on stops are “paramount,” she said. They must “be based on ‘reasonable suspicion’ as defined by the Supreme Court of the United States.”

They must “be conducted in a racially neutral manner.”

The enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table.

The Supreme Court recognized that “the degree of community resentment aroused by particular practices is clearly relevant to an assessment of the quality of the intrusion upon reasonable expectations of personal security.”

No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life. 

Those who are routinely subjected to stops are overwhelmingly people of color, and they are justifiably troubled to be singled out when many of them have done nothing to attract unwanted attention.

Equal protection under the law is fundamental, said Scheindlin. “The Constitution prohibits selective enforcement based on considerations such as race.”

Doing so “is especially insidious, because it will increase the likelihood of further enforcement actions against members of those races compared to other races, which will then increase their representation in crime statistics.”

Equal protection guarantees it for everyone. It’s supposed to. New York “is liable for the violation of plaintiffs’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.”

Scheindlin said she’ll order remedies in a separate opinion. They’ll include “immediate changes to the NYPD’s policies, a joint-remedial process to consider further reforms, and the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee compliance with the remedies ordered in this case.”

She concluded with “a particularly apt quote,” saying:

The idea of universal suspicion without individual evidence is what Americans find abhorrent and what black men in America must constantly fight. 

It is pervasive in policing policies – like stop-and-frisk, and neighborhood watch – regardless of the collateral damage done to the majority of innocents. It’s like burning down a house to rid it of mice.

She holds top city and NYPD officials liable for constitutional violations. She accused them of acting with willful indifference. She said they turn a blind eye to flagrant racial discrimination.

She named lawyer Peter L. Zimroth as independent monitor. He’s an Arnold & Porter LLP partner. He’s a former corporation counsel. He’s a former Manhattan district attorney office prosecutor.

Scheindlin ordered a pilot program for NPYD officers. She wants it in at least five precincts. She ordered cops to wear body cameras.

She wants street encounters recorded. She ordered a “joint remedial process.” It’ll include community meetings. She wants public input solicited. She wants stop and frisk reform.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg responded angrily. He denounced Scheindlin’s ruling. He accused her of deliberately not giving New York “a fair trial.”

He wrongfully claims stop and frisk works. He lied saying it enhances public safety. He arrogantly said “(y)ou’re not going to see any change in tactics overnight.” He’ll appeal. He’ll do so to let unconstitutional practices continue.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) initiated the federal class action lawsuit against New York City.

Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al. challenged “NYPD’s practices of racial profiling and unconstitutional stop-and frisks.”

CCR called the class action New York’s “trial of the century.” It cuts to the very heart of discriminatory police practices. It’s “part of a larger citywide movement” to end them.

It’s longstanding. It gained traction after Amadou Diallo’s February 1999 murder. He was unarmed. He was unthreatening in his apartment building vestibule.

Police fired 41 times. They did so without cause. Nineteen bullets struck him. He never had a chance.

“No court case is more important to the future of New York City” than Floyd v. NYC, said CCR. It’s “about creating a police department accountable to the people and communities it serves.”

“It’s about obtaining justice for” Diallo and countless others wrongfully stopped, frisked, mistreated, and sometimes grievously harmed.

It’s about holding the NYPD accountable for years of unreasonable, suspicionless and racially discriminatory stops.

CCR joined with community members, lawyers, researchers, and activists. They want discriminatory police practices stopped. Communities United for Police Reform is involved.

It calls stop and frisk, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s “broken windows,” and other discriminatory police practices abusive, unacceptable and ineffective.

“Each year,” it says, “hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are wrongfully stopped, frisked, or searched. Many wrongfully receive a summons, or are even arrested.”

Some are even sexually or physically assaulted by NYPD officers. They are being targeted by an increasingly confrontational and arrogant police force, often humiliated in their homes, schools and neighborhoods. 

These policies make us ALL less safe, by creating an atmosphere of fear of the police, instead of trust. 

These policies are an outrage, violating our fundamental rights and even the most basic fairness in our city. This is not an acceptable approach to public safety in New York.

On March 18, 2013, Floyd v. NYC went to trial. On May 20, it ended. It charged Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and NYC police officers (named and unnamed) with unconstitutional stops and frisks.

It cited doing so based on race and/or national origin. It charged violations of New York State laws. It claimed multiple other legal violations.

They include Fourth and 14th Amendment provisions. The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits racial, ethnic, religious and gender discrimination.

Floyd v. NYC specifically charged lawless stops and frisks without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. It cited discrimination based on race.

In 1999, CCR first challenged NYPD stop and frisk practices. Daniels, et al. v. the City of New York charged discriminatory stop and frisk practices based on race.

On December 12, 2003, settlement terms required the NYPD to maintain a written anti-racial profiling policy in compliance with US and New York State constitutional laws. It’s binding on all NYPD officers.

It requires they be audited to determine whether, and to what extent, they acted based on reasonable suspicion. Documented records must be kept. CCR gets them quarterly.

NYPD was required to engage in public education efforts. They include public meetings and workshops.

The NYPD had to abandon its infamous Street Crime Unit. It’s motto was “We Own The Night.” Plain clothed cops took full advantage. Black and Latino youths were harassed, arrested, falsely charged and killed.

CCR analysis of NYPD practices showed a continuing pattern of widespread, unconstitutional stops and frisks. Floyd v. NYC followed.

It “focuse(d) not only on the lack of any reasonable suspicion to make these stops in violation of the Fourth Amendment, but also on the obvious racial disparities in who gets stopped and searched by the NYPD.”

Around 90% are Blacks and Latinos. Doing so breaches the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

In response to Monday’s ruling, the ACLU said it “celebrates today’s decision by Federal Justice Shira Scheindlin declaring the NYPD’s longstanding and widespread stop and frisk practices unconstitutional.”

“As the decision exhaustively documents, the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy clearly violated the 4th and 14th Amendments, subjecting millions of innocent New Yorkers – overwhelmingly Black and Latino – to unlawful searches through systemic racial profiling.”

“We hope that today’s decision, and the robust remedies the court has put in place, will mark the end to this dark chapter in the NYPD’s history.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights responded, saying:

Today is a victory for all New Yorkers. 

After more than 5 million stops conducted under the current administration, hundreds of thousands of them illegal and discriminatory, the NYPD has finally been held accountable. 

It is time for the City to stop denying the problem and work with the community to fix it.

Scheindlin’s “landmark ruling found the NYPD’s practices to violate New Yorkers’ Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and also found that the practices were racially discriminatory in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Top city officials are liable for longstanding systematic abuses. Core constitutional provisions are violated. Nothing’s been done to correct them.

Mayor Bloomberg, police commissioner Ray Kelly, and other top officials turn a blind eye to flagrant constitutional violations.

According to senior CCR attorney Darius Charney:

This historic victory is the result not only of our 14 years of litigation, but of decades’ worth of efforts by activists, grassroots and legal organizations, and affected communities. 

The NYPD is finally being held to account for its longstanding illegal and discriminatory policing practices. 

The City must now stop denying the problem and partner with the community to create a police department that protects the safety and respects the rights of all New Yorkers.

CCR and two law firms were joint litigants: Beldock, Levine, and Hoffman (BLH) and Covington & Burling (CB), LLP.

BLH co-counsel Jonathan More said:

The Court correctly recognized that the City’s unconstitutional practices date back to at least 1999, and that the overwhelming evidence at trial demonstrated that the City expressly relies on race – not reasonable suspicion – to make decisions about whom to stop and frisk. 

The opinion sends a strong, national message that racial profiling is unconstitutional as well as devastating to communities of color.

On November 5, New York city residents will choose a new mayor. Bloomberg’s ineligible for a fourth term.

Comptroller John Liu hopes to succeed him. He supports abolishing stop and frisk, saying:

Today’s ruling by Judge Scheindlin declaring that police have overstepped their authority highlights the enormous flaws in the NYPD’s ‘stop and frisk’ tactic, which has served to undermine trust between communities and law enforcement.

Candidate Sal Albanese believes otherwise, saying:

I’m sure (stop and frisk opponents) will use this ruling to stir up voters and fan flames against our rank-and-file officers. 

After all, they’ve been unwilling to express even a modicum of support for our officers. 

But the vast majority of New Yorkers won’t be fooled. Unlike my opponents, they exercise basic common sense.

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous called Scheindlin’s ruling “a groundbreaking victory.”

“We hope that Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly will heed this decision and end their crude and abusive policy,” he said.

We will continue to stand up with the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who marched with us last June and fight for the protections of the Community Safety Act.

Latino Justice called Scheindlin’s ruling “a win for civil rights. (It) confirm(s) the reality experienced by many New Yorkers.”

Systematic abuse is longstanding. “(Y)oung blacks and Latinos” are most vulnerable.

Floyd v. City of New York “brings full circle to the movement that began in 1997.” Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets.

They chanted “it’s a wallet, not a gun.” They referred to cops lawlessly killing unarmed Black and Latino youths.

Court rulings won’t stop them. Systematic abuses are longstanding. They’re commonplace across America. Racism’s institutionalized. Jim Crow justice thrives.

Exonerating George Zimmerman for Trayvon Martin’s murder shows America doesn’t give a damn about Black youth killings.

If cold-blooded murder’s called self-defense, what chance have minority New York youths against stop and frisk injustice?

America’s at war at home. According to Operation Ghetto Storm, cops, security guards, and other self-appointed enforcers kill Black youths and adults on average every 28 hours.

It’s “perpetual war.” Killings compound other forms of systematic abuse. Driving while Black or Latino risks arrest. Minorities comprise around two-thirds of US prison inmates.

They get longer sentences. They’re more likely to receive capital punishment. They’re virtually never afforded justice. Civil liberties don’t apply to them. Jim Crow never ended. It’s the American way.

At best, court rulings highlight injustice. They fall way short of ending it. Maybe some day. Not now. For sure not in America any time soon.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. His new book is titled How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening. http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour/

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