Among the thousands who turned out to march down Fifth Avenue in protest of the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy Sunday were several prominent political opponents of the practice, which saw police stop over 685,000 people, the vast majority of whom were people of color, while collecting 780 guns. Likely candidates in next year’s mayoral election have focused on reforming some elements of the controversial policy, but many of the leaders who participated in the march explained to The Politicker that they want stop and frisk ended entirely.
“I don’t know how you can keep it and take the quotas and the profiling out of it and, therefore, I think they need an entirely new program. I don’t know how you mend something based on quotas and race,” said Reverend Al Sharpton, one of the organizers of the march.
The NYPD has consistently denied quotas or racial profiling play a role in the policy, though a record number of citizens were stopped last year. According to the NYCLU 88 percent of the people stopped last year were totally innocent and 87 percent were black or Latino.
Mr. Sharpton has not yet decided who to back in the mayoral race, but he said the candidates’ positions on stop and frisk would figure prominently in his decision.
“A lot of what we support will be based on this and other issues,” he said.
Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, who has been an outspoken critic of the policy, said he believes many of the mayoral candidates need to “stay with the pack” and that “some have been much stronger than others” on this issue, though he declined to name names.
“This issue of reform on stop and frisk is kind of a misnomer, because inherent in a police officer’s job is their ability to stop someone if they feel there’s reasonable suspicion to do so. Nobody wants to take that away ,what we want to take away are the abuses and the racial profiling,” said Mr. Williams. “Call it however you want, the current policy needs to end. You call it reform, you can call it an end. What I’m saying is, the way the police are doing business, the way people are stopping people just because they are black or latino is what needs to stop. So, I’m not going to get caught up in who’s saying what as long as theyre saying this behavior, this policy as it currently exists needs to end.”
Earlier this month, Mr. Williams was part of a delegation of City elected officials who traveled down to Washington D.C. to bring their concerns about stop and frisk to Congress and the Department of Justice. Sources told The Politicker Attorney General Eric Holder expressed his interest in conducting an investigation during a meeting with members of the delegation. Mr. Williams said he was confident the DOJ would take action on the issue in spite of the controversies currently surrounding the department.
“I think the Department of Justice seemed to be very interested in doing something, we were discussing what that something would be,” he said. “I’m hoping they’ll kind of honor what they said and follow up with us and I have no reason to believe that they won’t.”
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who is running for Congress in Brooklyn’s 8th district echoed the sentiment racial profiling is the main problem with the current stop and frisk policy.
“The Supreme Court has said that stop and frisk is constitutional, the question that we face here in New York is having it conducted in a manner that complies with the law,” said Mr. Jeffries. “Many of us believe that stop and frisk as it’s implemented consistently violates the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution. It completely inappropriately subjects large communities to racial profiling and leads to the persistent violation of civil rights and civil liberties. That’s the problem with stop and frisk as it currently exists.”
Mr. Jeffries also said he believes a potential solution lies with the Department of Justice.
“The Department of Justice needs to step in and conduct a patterns and practices inquiry, even if it’s preliminary in nature, to evaluate whether the NYPD is engaging in consistent violations of the civil rights and civil liberties of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers every year,” Mr. Jeffries said. “I think the Justice Department is in a strong pos to do so. The Office of Civil Rights is charged with conducting inquiries into civil rights violations allegedly occurring as a result of police department behavior. The Department of Justice has conducted such police inquiries in Detroit, Newark, San Juan and other cities across the country. They should come into New York City.
Comptroller John Liu is the only major likely mayoral candidate who has called for the stop and frisk policy to be ended altogether. He declined to answer when we asked why he thought the other probable candidates don’t share his position.
“That’s a question you have to ask them,” he said. “The stop and frisk tactic, it just doesn’t make sense in a democratic society, that nearly a tenth of the population will be stopped and frisked, almost all of whom have done nothing wrong. And because almost all the people that are being stopped and frisked are people of color, this is racial profiling and racial profiling’s not accepted even by the NYPD.”
Mayor Bloomberg and the police department have continually said the stop and frisk policy is one of the factors behind the declining crime rate in New York. Mr. Liu disputes the notion stop and frisk makes the City safer.
“It’s a tactic that has created huge divisions between communities and the police, thus making it unsafe for everybody. The numbers don’t really show any significant reductions in murder or signifcant increases in numbers of guns being taken off the streets,” said Mr. Liu. “It’s causing great pain and humiliation for too many people. Other cities have seen significant reductions in crime without employing these kinds of stop and frisk tactics. Let’s figure out what they’re doing and bring those strategies to New York City.”
For his part, Mr. Sharpton also took note of the fact Rodney King, whose 1991 beating at the hands of the LAPD sparked the Los Angeles riots, died on the same day as the march against stop and frisk.
“I worked with Rodney King in ’92. I marched for him and about four weeks ago, he came to New York, did my radio show and my television show,” Mr. Sharpton said. “We talked a lot about how things were done then and I think it’s ironic on a day that we raise a question of police abuse is the day we lost Rodney.”