Imagine walking down the street in some less-traveled part of Manhattan — say, the Morningside Heights neighborhood. You’re enjoying the mild weather and urban hum of an early April evening. Maybe you’re a visitor who wants a street-level view of residential life in the big city. Maybe you’re a Columbia University student, walking to the bus stop after a day in the classroom.
Or maybe you’re a run-of-the-mill native New Yorker, one of millions of city dwellers whose parents or grandparents put down roots in the Nation’s greatest ethnic melting pot, all in a bid to realize the American dream.
Now imagine a squad car pulling up and a pair of NYPD’s finest pouncing out of the vehicle with their guns drawn — on you. Imagine being thrown against a wall, your pockets emptied, the contents of your backpack dumped on the ground, the feel of pistol steel against the back of your head. Imagine not knowing a thing about why it happened, having no inkling of what was about to happen — or why. It just happened, and then you’re back on your way.
Oh, and imagine that every bit of that happened less than a block from your own home.
That’s the stop-and-frisk experience for many New Yorkers each day, as it has been since 1971, when the policy was first allowed under a court-established legal precedent. The city has come under increased criticism in recent years for allowing the police to rely more heavily on the policy than in the past.
Now, police testimony in a class-action lawsuit against the city confirms what many already knew: The cops are targeting minorities and using a quota system that’s driven from the top down. The Guardian describes the testimony of two New York Police Department officers who testified in Federal court last week, noting the stop-and-frisk program is “driven by a high-pressure quota system imposed upon lower-ranking officers.”
One of the cops, officer Adhyl Polanco, said Tuesday that “there’s a difference” between what the police are supposed to do and “what goes on out there.” He also said cops in his Bronx precinct had been expected to issue 20 summonses and make one arrest every month, with tangible repercussions for failure. If they couldn’t, a senior officer would hop in the squad car with them, take them out into the streets and show the younger cop how it’s done.
“We were handcuffing kids for no reason,” he added.
There’s an undeniable connection between the jump in residents’ stop-and-frisk complaints over the past decade and the tenures of both Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and nanny Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Stop and frisk has seen its search count increase by 600 percent since Bloomberg became mayor. Since it began, the program has accounted for more than 5 million impromptu searches, a dubious honor it acquired just last week.
While crime has declined in New York City, plaintiffs in the lawsuit point out that it’s not an exceptional trend, that crime in most U.S. urban centers has experienced similar declines — without policies in place that authorize unConstitutional searches.
The lawsuit understandably seeks an end to stop-and-frisk on 4th Amendment grounds. Nearly 90 percent of all stop-and-frisk searches end with no arrest, summons or citation. By far, most of those who’ve been searched have been black or Hispanic. The Guardian article references one cop who described the target demographic for stop and frisk as “male blacks 14 to 21.”