By Scott M. Stringer
During recent years, the NYPD’s policy of stop-and-frisk has become one of the defining civil rights issues of our time. Across the five boroughs, New Yorkers are calling for reform of a strategy that overwhelmingly targets people of color and divides our city.
We need to speak with one voice on this issue, so I invite you to join me and a host of community leaders in a Father’s Day march on June 17 where we will be calling attention to a policy that stops thousands of our fellow citizens every day—some 700,000 last year, the vast majority for no reason at all.
We are not marching against the men and women in blue. I agree with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Commissioner Ray Kelly that New York’s dramatic reduction in crime is one of the city’s proudest achievements.
But the most recent statistics about stop-and-frisk paint a troubling picture of how this policy is being implemented and why it needs to be reformed.
• In 2011, the number of stops was roughly seven times higher than the number in 2002.
• In 94 percent of stops, no arrests were made.
• In 86 percent of cases, the person stopped was either black or Latino.
• In 99.9 percent of stops, no gun was found.
Don’t get me wrong: There are times when police are justified in stopping and frisking subjects they deem to be a real threat.
But we need to base these stops on something more empirical than “furtive movement,” which today is the most commonly checked box by police officers when asked to explain a stop.
The 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches has been clearly defined by the courts for years: The only legal justification for a stop is when an officer has reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts—not on a hunch, and certainly not on the color of someone’s skin—that the individual being stopped has either just committed a crime or is about to. Anything else is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution.
We need to build bridges of trust and respect into every neighborhood by exploring innovative policing strategies that have succeeded in cities like Chicago, Boston and Cincinnati. It’s a message I delivered nine months ago at an address in Riverside Church in Harlem, and since then I have spent many Sundays listening to congregants in other churches talk of the fear—and despair—they feel about a stop-and-frisk policy that so clearly targets people of color.
Last fall I called on the Department of Justice to launch a probe of our current stop-and-frisk program to see if civil rights are being violated. I was proud to have worked with all 12 Manhattan community boards when they unanimously passed a resolution calling for reform of stop-and-frisk. But now, to bring about the changes we so urgently need, all of us—from uptown and downtown, East Side and West Side—must join together and make our voices heard.
That’s why I hope you’ll join us for our march on Father’s Day, June 17 at 3 p.m. on 110th Street between Fifth and Lenox avenues. New York City can be tougher on crime by being smarter on crime. Once we do that, we’ll make this a better, safer city for all of us.
Scott Stringer is Manhattan Borough President and a 2013 mayoral candidate.
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