Thousands of black, Latino, Muslim and gay activists from about 300 civil rights groups marched silently in New York City on Sunday demanding an end to the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) stop and frisk policy.
“If you’re white in New York you actually have to do something, you have to present reasonable suspicion to be stopped. Whereas if you’re a person of colour the police just disregard that …[and] there is no oversight effectively of the NYPD, the world’s seventh largest army.”
– Shahid Buttar from the Bill of Rights Defense Committee
The diverse group of protesters accused the country’s largest police department – which has about 35,000 officers – of racial profiling.
Over the last decade the number of people who were stopped and interrogated by the NYPD has increased by more than 600 per cent – the majority of them were black and Hispanic. In fact, in 2011 the number of times African Americans were stopped is larger than the actual number of African Americans who live in the entire city.
It is not the first time that the NYPD has been accused of racial discrimination. Earlier this year, the Associated Press uncovered a spy operation by the police department which targeted the Muslim population in the city and beyond.
And although the majority of the city’s voters disapprove of the stop and frisk tactic, most white voters – between 39 to 56 per cent – approve of it.
“The deterrent nature to the violence we’re dealing with in urban America is called better schools, employment opportunities, people having possibilities for their lives; not stopping and frisking people, criminalising them and having them in a constant state of fear.”
– Kevin Powell, a political activist
Michael Bloomberg, the city’s mayor, says these measures help keep New York safe. On Sunday, he defended the policy saying: “We’ve sent a message to criminals, if we suspect you may be carrying a gun, we will stop you. Through those stops, the police have recovered thousands of guns over the past decade … and tens of thousands of other weapons. There is no doubt those stops have saved lives.”
Bloomberg argued that the policy helped lead to a decrease in violent crime. Violent crime in New York did drop by 24 per cent between 2002 – when the stop and frisk policy was introduced – and 2010. But bigger decreases were recorded in cities without the policy; in Los Angeles it was down by 58 per cent during the same period, in Dallas by 46 per cent and in Baltimore by 32 per cent.
Inside Story Americas asks: What are the wider implications of a policy like the NYPD’s stop and frisk for minority communities?
Joining presenting Shihab Rattansi to discuss this are guests: Shahid Buttar, the executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and Kevin Powell, a political activist who took part in Sunday’s march and the author of Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and the Ghost of Dr King.
NUMBERS AFFECTED BY NYPD STOP AND FRISK POLICY:
- In 2011, an estimated 685,724 people were stopped by the NYPD. More than half of them were frisked. Some 88 per cent of the total was found to be innocent.
- Of those stopped, 53 per cent were black even though they only make up 26 per cent of New York City’s population. About 34 per cent were Latino. While just 4.7 per cent of the city’s population was young black and Latino males aged 14 to 24, this group made up nearly half of those stopped by the NYPD.
- Meanwhile, only nine per cent of those stopped were white, a group that makes up 1/3 of the city’s inhabitants.