Proclaiming it the face of modern day racial profiling, the Rev. Al Sharpton is slated to lead a Father’s Day march through Harlem calling further attention to statistics revealing more black and Latino men have been restrained based on the city’s controversial “stop and frisk” policies than there are members of that overall population throughout the entire city.
According to New York Civil Liberties Union, nearly 90 percent of all such encounters target blacks and Latinos, prompting top level New York state officials from at least three different branches of government to now request that the Justice Department join concerned citizens in seeking to curtail the parameters of the often abused law.
Late last month, a federal judge granted class action status to a lawsuit filed by hundreds of victims alleging such acts are racially motivated and should be designated as unconstitutional. In granting the motion, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled there was "overwhelming evidence" that the practice has indeed led to thousands of illegal stops.
"No one cares about stopping crime more than we do because we live in these neighborhoods," said New York City Assemblyman Karim Camara.
"I'm raising two kids. You think I like hearing gunshots when my kids are sleeping in the other room? But you are not stopping the gunshots. You are not getting the guns off the street."
Despite constituting just five percent of the city’s total population, black and Latino men aged 14 to 24 accounted for 42 percent of all stop and frisk stops last year. Camara and others are quick to point out that of those interactions, nine in ten of all subjects were later found to be completely innocent.
Even the department’s long unwavering stance that the policy greatly aides officers in targeting hotspot neighborhoods and getting guns off the street now appears a bit suspect, with data showing police only recover one gun for every 3,000 stops they make and most of the resulting arrests are on resisting arrest charges stemming from disputes brought on by the stops themselves.
"If you look at the numbers, no matter how you slice stop, question and frisk, it is a racist and prejudicial policy that violates civil rights and civil liberties," added New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who also co-chairs the City Council's gun violence committee. “It’s dangerous for people to look at what is happening in New York City and try to emulate that.”
In the face of such compelling and conflicting evidence, even NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now somewhat fluctuating on his hardline stance in favor of the policy. Speaking from the pulpit of an all-black church in one of Brooklyn’s highest crime neighborhoods, Bloomberg admitted, at the very least, the policy “should be amended.”
With Police Commissioner Ray Kelly also sitting in the audience, Bloomberg pledged “the NYPD is stepping up efforts to treat anyone who is stopped with civility.” He added police reforms, along with better training and oversight should also go a long way in negating all the concerns and criticisms.
In the end though, Bloomberg largely stood by his men and a policy that has grown by more than 400 percent (685,724 stops in 2011 compared to just 160,851 in 2003) since he took office. “We’re not going to walk away from a strategy that we know saves lives,” he said. “At the same time, we owe it to New Yorkers to ensure that stops are properly conducted and carried out in a respectful way.”
Nearby, Bishop Gerald Seabrooks intently looked on, later insisting he’s heard it all before— including all the many stories from community folks of young black men being routinely slammed against walls and otherwise disrespected by overaggressive officers.
Police have designated his Brownsville community as one of the city’s "Impact Zones," meaning officers routinely flood neighborhood streets targeting those whom they deem suspicious and for whatever reason suspect might be carrying a weapon.
"We have a lot of police who don't want to be in Brownsville, and they have an attitude when they come into Brownsville and you've got to deal with that," added Bishop A.D. Lyons. "They walk by you, and they won't speak, and they have an attitude. I've been trying to get them to come into the sanctuary and just show up, show that we're friends.”
Sharpton and National Action Network organization will be joined in their demonstration by the likes of the NAACP, the SEIU and at least 200 other community groups. Just last May, Dr. Cornel West was one of 20 protestors convicted on disorderly conduct charges after demonstrating outside a Harlem police station.
“Other analysis shows that there were some 120,000 stops of black and Latino children, most of them boys, between the ages of 14 and 18,” said Sharpton. “That’s nearly the equivalent total number of black and Latino boys in the city. So before a young teenager even graduates high school it’s almost a guarantee that he will be stopped and frisked by NY’s finest.”
Added Sharpton: “The Mayor should engage in an open and serious dialogue with those in the civil rights community around this issue so we can fight crime as a city but at the same time not do it at the cost of people’s civil rights and civil liberties… children cannot be born in this city where upon birth some are deemed citizens and others deemed suspects.”
Glenn Minnis is a NYC-based sports and culture writer. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.