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In New York, Be Black (or Latino), Be Stopped, Be Frisked

Michael Cummings,
New York Civil Liberties Union
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May 13, 2010

The New York Times ran an article today showing the alarming racial disparities in the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) stop-and-frisk practices.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has spent years exposing the NYPD’s unlawful and racially biased stop-and-frisk practices. (Check out this chart we published in the Times in 2007.)

For black and Latino New Yorkers, being stopped by the police for no discernable reason is a fact of life. Statistics tell the story: NYPD officers stopped nearly 490,000 blacks and Latinos last year, compared with 53,000 whites. In other words, blacks and Latino were nine times more likely to be stopped, questioned or frisked by the police than whites.

According to the Times article, arrest rates of blacks and whites stopped by police were nearly identical — about 6 percent. Overall, NYPD officers stopped and interrogated at least 505,000 completely innocent people in 2009, the most ever since the department began collecting data on its troubling stop-and-frisk program.

What the article doesn’t mention is that the NYPD keeps the personal information of every single innocent person it stops. Didn’t do anything wrong? Just walking down the street while black? It doesn’t matter — your name is now in a sprawling police database.

Essentially, the NYPD is compiling a massive database of law-abiding black and Latino New Yorkers, and has turned more than 1 million innocent New Yorkers into criminal suspects.

The NYCLU has been leading the fight against the NYPD’s overly aggressive use of stop-and-frisk for years. In 2008, the NYCLU won a case forcing the police department to turn over its complete stop-and-frisk database. The data is under independent analysis.

Our work has gained traction with leaders of the New York City Council. In March, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr., chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, publicly criticized the NYPD for maintaining the database. They argued that the database raises significant privacy concerns and requires urgent action.

As yet, Kelly has not addressed the lawmakers’ concerns. He forcefully defends the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices, despite clear and overwhelming evidence of racial bias.

If you live in New York City, take action in support of the NYCLU’s stop-and-frisk work.

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