A federal court ruling against New York City’s stop-and-frisk practices says, essentially: “There are to be no ‘Constitution-free zones’” where Blacks can be treated as lesser citizens. However, the entire American political establishment is committed to racial surveillance and mass Black incarceration. That’s why “the ruling will be met with massive resistance reminiscent of the official southern white reaction to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court school desegregation decision.”
“There is no basis for assuming that an innocent population shares the same characteristics as the criminal suspect population in the same area.”
On February 4, 1999, four plainclothes New York City police officers summarily executed Amadou Diallo in a barrage of 41 bullets, setting in motion a legal battle that challenged the constitutionality of the city’s stop-and-frisk policies. Last week, federal judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in favor of the Black and Latino plaintiffs in a class action suit, declaring that New York’s stop-and-frisk policies amount to racially selective violations of the Constitution’s prohibitions against unreasonable searches. In her 195-page decision, Scheindlin noted that more Blacks and Latinos have been accosted by police on the streets of New York since 2004 than actually live in city. Stop-and-frisk, as practiced by the NYPD, is designed to “instill fear” in the targeted groups, said the judge, and “there is a sufficient basis for inferring discriminatory intent.” Scheindlin ordered that:
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* an independent monitor, accountable to the courts, oversee stop-and-frisk activities;
* police supervisors cease enforcing a “quota” system that compels officers to make unwarranted stops;
* cops in selected precincts wear video cameras, to record their actual behavior in confronting citizens on the street; and,
* establishment of a Joint Remedial Process, in which community residents in high-volume-stops neighborhoods would make their opinions and proposals known.
It should be expected that the ruling will be met with massive resistance reminiscent of the official southern white reaction to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court school desegregation decision. Mayor Michael Bloomberg greeted the ruling with defiance equal to that of Alabama Governor George Wallace’s threats to stand in the schoolhouse door. “You’re not going to see any change in tactics overnight,” said the billionaire politician, whose term ends next year. Bloomberg will immediately appeal the ruling, which could then be put on hold pending the outcome.
“More Blacks and Latinos have been accosted by police on the streets of New York since 2004 than actually live in city.”
Bloomberg and his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, have comported themselves with such brazen racial arrogance as to welcome a grand confrontation with the court – in much the same manner as white officialdom behaved in Dixie in the Fifties and early Sixties. Back in June, amidst voluminous court testimony on wildly disproportionate police stops of young Black and brown men, the mayor told listeners to his weekly radio show: “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It’s exactly the reverse of what they say.”
The dignity of whites, who make up only nine percent of those stopped, is precious, while the rights of Blacks are of no consequence to the mayor. Commissioner Kelly has been Bloomberg’s enforcer of race-based law during the whole period scrutinized by Judge Scheindlin. Kelly admitted to a Black state senator and retired police captain that the purpose of stop-and-frisk was to “instill fear” among Black and Latino men that they would be stopped and frisked whenever they left their homes – a quote cited by the judge.
Bloomberg and Kelly have good reason to relish a throw-down, since the ideological foundations of their policing positions are shared by most whites (60 percent of white New Yorkers support stop-and-frisk) and by federal law enforcement – albeit in stealth fashion, under President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. Kelly, whose reputation is inextricably entwined with stop-and-frisk, was under serious consideration as the next head of Homeland Security. “I think Ray Kelly is one of the best there is,” said President Obama, “so he’s been an outstanding leader in New York.”
“The purpose of stop-and-frisk was to ‘instill fear’ among Black and Latino men.”
Eric Holder, whose sins of mass Black incarceration are legion, claims to welcome the appointment of a federal monitor over the NYPD. Fortunately, the monitor would be answerable to the court, not Holder’s office. The nation’s first Black top law enforcement officer has allowed his U.S. attorney in Indianapolis to conduct selective enforcement of gun laws limited to five “hot zones” – neighborhoods that just happen to include much of the city’s Black population. This goes to the actual, geographic and racial heart of stop-and-frisk, which is not directed against individual Black and brown men, but against their racial groups and, primarily, the neighborhoods they live in. Holder allows the U.S. attorney in Indianapolis to redline whole Black neighborhoods for selective federal gun law enforcement – he explicitly promised to confine the practice to the designated “hot zones” – because that is consistent with Obama administration policy. Remember that Obama, in his post-Zimmerman acquittal reminiscences of his days as a profiled Black youth, attempted to frame Trayvon Martin’s killing as essentially a “gun crime.” The administration wishes to convert Black rage at the summary execution of African Americans by law enforcement and various vigilantes into acceptance of racially selective “gun control” – a stance that is entirely consistent with Bloomberg and Kelly’s rationale for stop-and-frisk as a gun control practice (despite the fact that only two percent of NYPD stops uncover weapons of any kind).
A key part of Judge Scheindlin’s ruling deals directly with the issue of the geography of policing. In rejecting the city’s argument that disproportionate stop-and-frisks are necessary because Blacks and Latinos commit disproportionate numbers of crimes, the judge applied the principles of the Constitution’s 4th and 14th Amendments. Police need to provide “individualized proof” that a given person on a given street at a given time, exhibiting specific and reasonably understood behaviors, should be stopped and frisked. Arithmetic on the gross number of crimes in an area won’t do.
“The administration wishes to convert Black rage at the summary execution of African Americans by law enforcement and various vigilantes into acceptance of racially selective ‘gun control.’”
“There is no basis for assuming,” wrote Scheindlin, “that an innocent population shares the same characteristics as the criminal suspect population in the same area. Instead, I conclude that the benchmark used by plaintiffs’ expert — a combination of local population demographics and local crime rates (to account for police deployment)—is the most sensible.”
That means no stops in “hot zones” or “designated drug zones” or “high crime neighborhoods” without “individualized proof” – although crime statistics can and should be used in terms of the deployment of police. There are to be no “Constitution-free zones.”
Neither Bloomberg nor Obama are willing to live within the bounds of the law, as interpreted by Scheindlin. Effectively, they are allied in maintaining a hyper-surveillance regime for Blacks, the foundation of mass Black incarceration. (Obama, of course, has much larger plans in progress, for the whole nation and planet.)
The Center for Constitutional Rights must be applauded for waging such a critical legal battle all these years. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is also to be commended for its suit against horrific police abuse of public housing tenants, which goes to trial in October. However, legal strategies are highly vulnerable to determined institutional resistance, and the passage of time. The white South’s massive resistance to school desegregation was, for a time, successful in holding the color line – until Blacks physically challenged American apartheid, bringing the crisis to a head. The so-called New Jim Crow (Judge Scheindlin cited the book), which has imposed its dominion of mass Black surveillance and incarceration over the course of two generations, is national in scope, bipartisan in nature, and supported by majorities of whites. It will not be defeated in a courtroom.
Carl Dix, of Stop Stop-and-Frisk, who, along with activist academic Dr. Cornel West launched a direct action campaign to confront the NYPD, asks: “Why should we expect a federal monitor to end the way Blacks and Latinos are mistreated by the NYPD, when the Department of Justice is fighting people sentenced under the 100-1 sentencing disparity for crack cocaine possession who are trying to get those sentences reduced?”
Only a grassroots people’s movement can defend African American rights to live as dignified, self-determining human beings. Bloomberg can’t appeal the verdict of the streets.