A new report from New York's preeminent civil liberties group details how the New York Police Department's "Stop-and-Frisk" policy disproportionately targets black and Hispanic youth and how the overwhelming majority of those stopped are innocent.
The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) released its report, "Stop-and-Frisk 2011," on Wednesday, in which the "Stop-and-Frisk" program's "stark racial disparities" and its "ineffectiveness in recovering illegal firearms"-- supposedly the purpose of the program -- were highlighted.
"The NYPD's own data undermine many of the Bloomberg administration's justifications for the stop-and-frisk program," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in releasing the report. "Contrary to the mayor and police commissioner's assertions, the massive spike in the number of stops has done little to remove firearms from the streets. Instead, it has violated the constitutional rights of millions of people and corroded the ability of communities of color to trust and respect the police."
The report revealed that NYPD officers stopped and questioned people 685,724 times in 2011, a 600 percent increase from Mayor Michael Bloomberg's first year in office. Fully 90 percent of those stopped were innocent. About 87 percent were black or Hispanic.
Among the NYCLU report's findings:* In 33 precincts, blacks and Hispanics accounted for more than 90 percent of stops. In the 10 precincts with black and Latino populations of 14 percent or less (such as the 6th Precinct in Greenwich Village), black and Latino New Yorkers accounted for more than 70 percent of stops in six of those precincts.
* Young black and Hispanic men were the targets of a hugely disproportionate number of stops. Though they account for only 4.7 percent of the city's population, black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6 percent of stops in 2011. The number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men (168,126 as compared to 158,406). Ninety percent of young black and Latino men stopped were innocent.
* Weapons were only found in 1.9 percent of all stops. This, despite the fact that officers are only supposed to conduct stops when officers reasonably suspect that a person has a weapon that could endanger their safety.
* Blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be frisked than whites, but less likely to be found with weapons.
"Our analysis demonstrates the alarming extent to which the NYPD is targeting innocent black and brown New Yorkers," NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn said. "In nearly every police precinct -- black and white, high crime and low crime -- black and Latino New Yorkers are stopped and frisked at a far greater rate than whites. Everyone wants to feel safe in their neighborhoods, but the abuse of stop-and-frisk is making communities of color across New York City fear the force that is supposed to protect them."
One consequence of the disproportionate targeting of black and Hispanic youth not mentioned in the NYCLU report is the surge in marijuana arrests. Although marijuana possession was decriminalized in the state of New York in 1977, New York City arrests more people for the drug than any other city on earth. More than 50,000 people were arrested for low-level marijuana offenses in the city in 2011; many of these were the result of the "Stop-and-Frisk" policy.
While possession has indeed been decriminalized, having marijuana in public view is still a misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine. When NYPD officers stop suspects, they often ask them to empty their pockets. Ignorant of the law, they often do, and when they produce marijuana it is then in "public view" and the suspect is subject to arrest.
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