Blog Post

NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk Policy Ruled Unconstitutional

Evan Goldstein

Yesterday in a ground-breaking court decision, Federal Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that the NYPD engaged in rampant unconstitutional and racially biased policing through its controversial stop-and-frisk policy. The unprecedented finding came several months after the two month long trial featuring the testimony of victims of unlawful stop-and-frisk as well as criminal justice experts.

The court found that the stop-and-frisk tactics of the New York Police Department violated the constitutional rights of Black and Latino New Yorkers. In a major blow to NYPD’s credibility, Judge Scheindlin appointed an outside lawyer, Peter L. Zimroth, to monitor NYPD’s compliance with the Constitution.  Judge Scheindlin found that NYPD officers have been stopping innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing and “adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data.”  In addition to what judge Scheindlin called the “human toll of unconstitutional stops.”

The Floyd class action lawsuit was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, representing tens of thousands of New Yorkers suing the NYPD and the City of New York for the unconstitutional and racially biased policy of stop-question-frisking mostly young men of color without suspicion of any wrongdoing. The court looked at stop-question-frisk patterns between 2004 and 2012, when police stopped people about 4.4 million times. In that period, about 85% of those stopped were either Black or Latino, and more than 90% of not arrested or charged with any wrongdoing.

In fact, NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy has resulted in the unconstitutional arrests of more than 600,000 New Yorkers – predominantly young men of color – for marijuana possession since 1996 even though possessing small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized since 1977. These arrests for marijuana possession public view is the number one arrest resulting from a police stop and is also the number one arrest in New York City.

Although in the face of overwhelming evidence that NYPD officers stopped hundreds of thousands of people unconstitutionally, Mayor Bloomberg vows to fight tooth and nail any stop-question-frisk reforms.

Yesterday’s ruling comes on the heels of the unprecedented passage of the Community Safety Act by the New York City Council in early July. However, Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the legislation and has vowed to use his sizeable wealth to ensure that the veto remains.  The vote to override the veto is scheduled for August 22, but you can help override the veto by clicking here.

Evan Goldstein is a policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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