The circumstances of a legitimate, lawful stop and frisk by police officers is still a contentious issue in New York City. The media have not all been responsible much less factual and accurate in their reporting and editorials on the topic. For instance, the New York Post recently editorialized that the possibility of the appointment of a special Inspector General at NYPD to oversee “stop and frisk” would invite “mayhem” by undermining, if not ending, an effective law enforcement tool.
We sent, and the New York Post, ran, a LETTER TO THE EDITOR responding to the newspaper’s editorial. Here is our letter that was published in the NEW YORK POST on March 23:
March 23, 2013
The Issue: Whether the City Council’s push for more oversight of the NYPD would help or hurt the city.
To the Editor:
The editorial “Invitation to Mayhem” is misinformed on the law and circumstances of legitimate stops and frisks.
A stop is permissible when a cop has reasonable suspicion a person is involved in a crime.
A frisk is allowed only when the officer has an articulable basis to pat for a weapon, such as seeing a bulge resembling a gun. That frisk is for the cop’s safety.
But wide-scale stops and frisks cannot be countenanced as a strategy for crime fighting by rounding up the usual suspects — mostly young blacks and Hispanics.
Such behavior is racial profiling and will invite community resentment and legal challenge.
Besides being an affront to our constitutional protections, unfettered stops and frisks on the basis of hunches or arrest quotas violate our sensibilities as a free people.
Cops, too, must obey the law. If police misconduct is your measure of law and order, that will invite mayhem.
New York Civil Rights Coalition
A Harlem resident, taking issue with our letter to the editor of The New York Post, sent us a copy of her letter to NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in which she backed stop and frisk practices as an effective and necessary NYPD crime-fighting tactic. She compared the stop and searching of black and Hispanic youths to the necessary searches at airports, for our collective safety.
This is our reply to the correspondent:
April 2, 2013
I have the copy of your letter to Commissioner Kelly.
We will just have to disagree on this one.
The Police Commissioner doesn’t need encouragement to enforce the law–nor should he need encouragement to obey the law. When top brass at NYPD (as it has been alleged) order arrest quotas or direct officers to stop, question and frisk young men on the basis of their skin color being black or brown–that is unlawful racial profiling by the police. The courts have made it clear that police do not have any authority to break the law in the name of protecting society much less to deprive citizens of their constitutional rights just because the police officers mean well. That is not a constitutional standard that is recognized or in force anywhere in the United States.
As far as security at airports is concerned–that’s altogether different. Bags are checked and persons who seek to board airplanes may be X-rayed and patted down (and even searched) because when they board airplanes they do so voluntarily–that is, if they want to fly, they must consent to the search or else walk away.
People who are using the sidewalks to walk home, to go to and from school, to shop, or, for that matter, if they’re just standing peaceably (without blocking or interfering with the rights of others) on the sidewalks, socializing, are entitled to the legal protection of not being stopped and questioned and frisked by police officers who regard their mere presence or their just standing there a threat to the community. Just because –as Kelly cynically points out–that most violent crimes are committed by young blacks and/or Hispanics, police are not allowed to round up the “usual suspects’ or hassle people on the basis that most crimes are committed by “young blacks”. Skin color alone is not a legal basis for suspecting someone of having committed or being in the process commiting a crime.
Your argument is with the Constitution of the United States; and, it will take more than a wish on your part to either amend the Constitution or to have police brass violate or ignore the Constitution. That is what distinguishes and makes us a free people and makes ours a free society, not a police state.
With best wishes,