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Judge strikes down New York’s stop-and-frisk policy

19th August 2013   ·   0 Comments

By J. Kojo Livingston
Contributing Writer

Ruling may affect Louisiana

A game-changing decision by a federal judge may have an impact on civil liberties across the nation. On Monday of this week, Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that police officers in New York have for years been systematically stopping innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. Officers often frisk­ed these people, usually young minority men, for weapons or searched their pockets for contraband, like drugs, before letting them go, according to the 195-page decision.

Scheindlin said that the department violated the constitutional rights of tens of thousands of New Yorkers, and demonstrated a widespread disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable sear­ches and seizures by the government, according to the ruling. She called for a federal monitor to oversee broad reforms. It also found violations with the 14th Amendment.

“No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life,” Scheindlin wrote.

Stop-and-frisk was a major element in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s crime-fighting strategy. Bloomberg and his chief of police Raymond Kelly held a press conference immediately after the decision was made denouncing the judge and declaring that it would harm crime fighting efforts. “People have a right to walk down the street without being targeted by the police, but people also have a right to walk down the street without being killed or mugged,” said Bloomberg.

In her decision, Judge Scheindlin found that the NYPD encourages the targeting of young Black and Latino men based on crime statistics, which is a form of racial profiling in violation of the Fourteenth Amend­ment. Between January 2004 and June 2012, 83 percent of all individuals stopped by NYPD officers were Black and Latino despite the fact that they comprise only 52 percent of New York City’s population. Only 12 percent of all stops led to an arrest or summons.

In a related development, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. with co-counsel the Legal Aid Society, has filed a related lawsuit, Davis v. City of New York, on behalf plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the NYPD’s policy and practice of stopping and arresting public housing residents and their guests for the purported crime of trespassing. LDF’s case is scheduled for a jury trial before Judge Scheindlin in October.

“Judge Scheindlin’s ruling is a historic recognition of the NYPD’s entrenched discriminatory practices that have violated the rights of Black and Latino New Yorkers for decades,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel. Although the ruling does not abolish the practice of stop and frisk, it mandates major changes in the way the policy is implemented to ensure that police officers do not discriminate when conducting stops. Additionally, Judge Scheindlin has required an independent monitor to supervise the NYPD and input from numerous stakeholders, including members of the community where stops most often take place.

“The idea of universal suspicion without individual evidence is what Americans find abhorrent and what Black men in America must constantly fight,” Judge Scheindlin wrote in her decision. “It is important to recognize the human toll of unconstitutional stops. . . No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life.”

The ruling is expected to have national ramifications as police departments across the country have been accused of using racially-based “profile stops” against Black and Hispanic citizens for years without any legal relief.

Closer to home New Orleans Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson was referenced as expert in hearings on racial profiling in Oakland, suggesting a reporting measure that could reduce the practice. Hutson suggested that a narrative field in which the officers describe the circumstances for each stop would be the best way to gather information that will be used to analyze reasonable suspicion. Philadelphia has also implemented a narrative field to explain such stops.

The decision could affect Shreveport which is the largest incarcerator in Louisiana, which is the largest per capita incarcerating state in the United States, which is by far the largest incarcerating nation in the world. Many of these arrests have been attributed to unwarranted stops that result in questionable charges being placed on citizens. The vast majority of inmates housed in Shreveport and Caddo Parish are awaiting trial and have not been found guilty of any crime. Local attorneys have also expressed concerns over excessive charging.

This article originally published in the August 19, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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