MANHATTAN (CN) - Days after a federal judge reinstated claims that New York City police illegally searched a black man as part of a stop-and-frisk policy, the New York Civil Liberties Union released a report that police recently reached their four millionth street stop in seven years.
"Entire neighborhoods in New York City are turning into Constitution-free zones," NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. "A walk to the subway or corner deli should not carry the assumption that you will be confronted by police, but that is the disturbing reality for many New Yorkers. Racially biased policing undermines trust between residents and police, harming public safety. It's time to hold the NYPD accountable for its unlawful and destructive stop-and-frisk practices."
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin is presiding over a class action that calls for this practice's end. She described the decades-long history of so-called "preemptive policing" in an earlier decision on the case.
"Since the mid-1990s, New York City has experienced a precipitous decline in crime rates," that 86-page decision said. "The reasons for this decline are not clear. Some claim that it results from innovative policing policies influenced by the 'broken windows' theory of crime control, beginning under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner William Bratton, and continuing under current Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. Others argue that the drop in crime must be due to economic or other factors, as crime rates declined in cities nationwide during the same period, irrespective of variations in policing policies.
"In either case, it is clear that the policing policies that the city has implemented over the past decade and a half have led to a dramatic increase in the number of pedestrian stops, to the point of now reaching 'almost 600,000 a year,'" Scheindlin wrote.
In the few months since that Aug. 31 order, Scheindlin has revised the estimate up to 720,000 a year.
"There is 'a disturbingly large racial disparity in who is victimized by these practices,' although the precise extent of the disparity and its causes are matters of dispute," the Aug. 31 order continues. "While the city credits its 'preemptive' policing, and accompanying high stop rates, for the decline in crime, plaintiffs argue that African-American and Latino men have been the targets and borne the brunt of these policies, as hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens have been stopped, questioned, and frisked based, in large part, on their race."
Scheindlin allowed David Ourlicht to seek civil damages for his stop-and-frisk outside the Johnson public housing complex in Harlem, but she dismissed claims related to the search of co-plaintiff David Floyd because the police provided evidence of probable cause.
At the time, Scheindlin believed that the police found Floyd fumbling with his keys in an area that had a pattern of robberies. But in a motion for reconsideration, Floyd showed that the neighborhood had reported just one robbery in two months before he was searched.
Scheindlin reinstated Floyd's claims on Nov. 23 to "prevent a manifest injustice."
"I do not take lightly my decision to grant plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration," she wrote. "The great majority of requests for reconsideration based on the submission of new evidence that could have been produced at the time of the original motion are rightly denied. Granting such a motion is an exceptional remedy, but this is an exceptional situation. It would be a miscarriage of justice to grant summary judgment against Floyd on the basis of a local pattern of burglaries when the newly submitted evidence puts the existence of such a pattern very much in doubt; that injustice would be particularly acute given the serious concerns that the Fagan report raises about the widespread and potentially improper reliance on such crime patterns by the NYPD."
The cited "Fagan report," authored by Columbia University professor Jeffrey Fagan, concluded, "Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be stopped than whites even in areas where there are low crime rates and where residential populations are racially heterogeneous or predominately white."
A lawyer for city said she "respectfully" disagreed with Scheindlin's decision. "As the Police Department as asserted on numerous occasions, stops save lives," attorney Celeste Koelveld told Courthouse News through a spokeswoman.
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