Black And Reasonably Suspect

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[Speaking Truth To Power]

The organization comprising African American police officers, One Hundred Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, is asking Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate whether the NYPD’s use of the controversial “stop and frisk” policing measures constitute racial profiling against minorities.

“We believe the numbers justify his intervention,” said Noel Leader, co-founder of the group.

In 2009, the NYPD stopped some 575, 304 people. Blacks and Latinos, who represent 53 percent of the population in New York City, accounted for 87 percent of those who were stopped and frisked. This is a seven percent increase from the figures of 2005 through 2008. Moreover, only six percent of Blacks and Latinos stopped were arrested. Ten percent of those stopped were White.

“This is a preposterous and blatant form of racial profiling, which is a violation" of civil rights, Leader said. He added that he has no confidence in New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. “Police Commissioner Kelly's Administration is one of the most abusive of this particular policy, and it’s time that the New York State Attorney General step in.”

Deputy Police Commissioner in charge of public information, Paul Browne, contends that stop-and-frisk measures “are a life-saving practice in neighborhoods experiencing the most crime, and responsible, in part, for the record low in murders recorded last year.” Statistics show only 1.3 percent of last year’s stops resulted in the detection of a weapon.

The stop-and-frisk measure was deemed legal in the aftermath of the 1968 Terry v. Ohio Case. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled police had the right to conduct partial searches—without warrants—based on the lesser legal precedent of “reasonable suspicion,” as opposed to “probable cause,” in specific cases. The Court reasoned in instances where police witnessed “unusual conduct” indicating “criminal activity may be afoot” police could conduct a “pat-down search” for weapons.

However, the Court found “in justifying the particular intrusion the police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inference from those facts, reasonably warrant the intrusion.” The Court stated fuzzy, vague suspicions weren’t enough to subject citizens to the intrusions.

Ironically, dissenting Justice William O. Douglas opined the ruling gave police “greater authority to make a ‘seizure’ and conduct a ‘search’ than a judge has to authorize such action.” He warned: “To give the police greater power than a magistrate is to take a long step down the totalitarian path.”

Unfortunately, this ruling is now being used to dilute the Fourth Amendment Rights of Blacks, Hispanics and others—who are being stopped unreasonably—all over the United States, including New York City.

The Fourth Amendment upholds “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Don’t the Fourth Amendment Rights of Blacks and Latinos matter?

The Center for Constitutional Rights has been analyzing the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy for years. In response to the latest figures, the Center stated “Blacks and Latinos are significantly more likely to be stopped by the police than Whites; Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be frisked after an NYPD-initiated stop than Whites; and Blacks and Latinos are more likely to have physical force used against them during a NYPD-initiated stop than Whites. Yet the rates of summons and arrests and recovery of weapons and contraband from all stops is not only extremely low, but nearly the same across racial categories.”

The Center’s Executive Director, Vincent Warren said, “2009 was the worst year for stop-and-frisks on record. For many kids, getting stopped by the police while walking home from school has become a normal after-school activity, and that’s tragic. The public is demanding constructive change and an end to racially-biased policing by the NYPD.” In response to Noel Leader’s request the Attorney General’s Office said it would examine the data.

As a gubernatorial candidate in-waiting Attorney General Andrew Cuomo may very well drag his feet on this issue, since he won’t want to be accused of being weak on “law and order.”  The truth is: there are many in the law enforcement community, as well as in the political arena, that see the face of crime as a Black one.

Harsh reality--the New York Police Department’s racist behavior is consistent with a pervasive perception of Blacks and Latinos.

We still live in, largely, segregated neighborhoods. And even in Black neighborhoods, residents have minimal or no say in determing how the areas are policed. There is need for mass mobilization so that these communities can exercise power and determine their destiny.

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