Even on his way out the door, Michael Bloomberg is still fighting for the right of New York City police to wantonly stop and frisk black and Hispanic youth police suspect may be committing a crime–whether they have independent reason to think so or not.
Recently, the city appealed a lower court judge’s decision to deny the city’s request to continue its controversial practice even though the judge, in August, found the policy unconstitutional. The city wanted to continue on until the case had made it up through the appellate courts.The controversy may also be at the heart of New York City’s upcoming mayoral election as well.
Democratic nominee Bill de Blasio was able to use once front-runner for the Democratic nomination Christine Quinn’s connection to outgoing three-term mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) to eventually secure a win.
Furthermore, political watchers pointed out how much of de Blasio’s primary campaign seemed to be against the Bloomberg years. Core to his message was reversing the police Stop and Frisk policy, which Bloomberg has ardently defended and supported.
It all comes down to personal rights and crime.
The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, protects Americans from unlawful search and seizure. However, the US Supreme Court in a 1968 case, Terry v. Ohio, interpreted that police officers have the right to question people they have a “reasonable suspicion” to believe were part of or are about to commit a crime. In the interest of safety of officers, the court said they could pat down a suspect to make sure they are not concealing a weapon that could be used against a questioning office. This became known as a “Terry Stop” or more commonly “ Stop and Frisk.”
During these pat downs, often times, police will usually not discover weapons, but rather illegal drugs or other items which would then form a basis to arrest the suspect. Without some independent evidence or other form of probable cause, officers usually cannot just randomly arrest citizens.
The law is still valid, but has been subject to abuse. Yet, critics of “Stop and Frisk” in New York city have said it was watered down and was being conducted casually, increasingly, and lasciviously without regard to people’s constitutional rights.
Over the past decade, New York Police significantly increased its stop and frisk rate. Between 2004 and 2009 police stopped 2.8 million people and Blacks were among 50% of those stopped. Latinos 30% and whites were merely 10% of that population.
In 2008, on behalf of four individuals, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a class action complaint against the city. It argued that the practice violated the Fourth Amendment and officers had been using no independent or separate reasons to stop and frisk people but simply stopping black youth in inner city neighborhoods, wantonly, and without any attempt to follow the standard set up in the Terry case.
In May of 2012, a judge granted class action status. One of the plaintiffs, Lalit Clarkson, a 20-year old charter school teacher’s aid in the Bronx said, in 2006 he was coming from work when two officers stopped and searched him for drugs. “I think many folks in our community feel there is no accountability for when their rights are violated by the police,” Clarkson told the New York Times.
The city admitted that within the first 3 months of 2012 alone, it had stopped and frisked 200,000 people, mainly young black men. Bloomberg credited the substantial and exponential drop in crime in the city and the targeted neighborhoods on the practice and vowed to maintain it. But in August, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin agreed that the law indeed violates the Fourth Amendment, finding the Police Department resorted to a “policy of indirect racial profiling” as it increased the number of stops in minority communities. That has led to officers’ routinely stopping “blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white.”
The decision also stated that New York police were too quick to deem suspicious behavior that was perfectly innocent, in effect watering down the legal standard required for a stop.“Blacks are likely targeted for stops based on a lesser degree of objectively founded suspicion than whites,” she wrote.
In the 195-page opinion, (summarized here), the judge called for the federal government to oversee reforms of the system and asked that officers wear body cameras during patrols, noting also that she was not calling an end to the practice.
Bloomberg appealed the decision and said he wouldn’t ask his officers to change the practice overnight. “You’re not going to see any change in tactics overnight,” Bloomberg said this August after the decision was handed down, adding that he hoped police would be allowed to continue their practice through the appeal process and the end of his term. “I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a lot of people dying.”
However, he had a slightly softer stance later when he admitted to a New Yorker reporter that if he had a son who routinely got stopped as young black men do, he may have had a change of heart.
It was another door opener for de Blasio who has a black wife and bi-racial son to connect more with the very diverse and Democratic residents of New York City. In a campaign ad, with his son in it, de Blasio refers to talking to his son about possibly getting stopped and frisked.
Bloomberg’s wish of hoping the practice continues until the end of his term got denied on September 17, when a judge denied his request to retain it until the case exhausts its appeal. He recently appealed it to the court of appeals.