.Oakland Was Right on Stop-and-Frisk

A federal judge's ruling that New York City's policing tactic is unconstitutional proved that Oakland's leaders were smart not to adopt it.

Earlier this year, civil rights activists in Oakland were understandably worried that the city was going to adopt New York’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy. The concern stemmed from Oakland’s decision to hire one of the nation’s most vocal advocates of stop-and-frisk — former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton — as a highly paid consultant to OPD. Yet despite the call by local tough-on-crime proponents for Oakland to heed Bratton’s advice and approve stop-and-frisk, Mayor Jean Quan and the city council tabled the idea because of concerns that it would lead to racial profiling. And a federal judge’s ruling earlier this week concluding that the policing strategy is unconstitutional because it disproportionately targets blacks and Latinos proved that Quan and the council made the right choice.

In her 195-page decision following an extensive trial on stop-and-frisk, federal Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that New York’s policy of routinely stopping and searching young black and Latino men because they fit the general description of crime suspects violates both the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection for racial minorities under the law. In her decision, Scheindlin quoted the 1949 US Supreme Court case Wolf v. Colorado: “‘The security of one’s privacy against arbitrary intrusion by the police — which is at the core of the Fourth Amendment — is basic to a free society.'” The judge then added: “Far too many people in New York City have been deprived of this basic freedom far too often.”

The judge then meticulously shredded virtually every argument that New York police and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have made over the years to justify stop-and-frisk. For instance, they have claimed that police have not targeted people based on the color of their skin, but instead had focused on high-crime areas of the city. But Scheindlin pointed out that NYPD’s own crime statistics proved that claim was false. She noted that NYPD not only had been disproportionately stopping black and Latino young men in the city overall — but also within high-crime areas. And for no good reason. She noted that crime statistics showed that police were far more likely to discover that blacks and Latinos had done nothing wrong after stopping them than the whites they had stopped.

A study by the ACLU had previously found that, from 2002 to 2011, about 90 percent of the people stopped by New York police officers were black or Latino. In addition, 88 percent of the people stopped had done nothing wrong and so were not arrested.

The judge also noted that the claim that police were only targeting people who fit the general description of criminal suspects was bogus as well. She pointed out that New York police disproportionately stopped blacks and Latinos for the way they had allegedly acted, noting that police were more likely to say they stopped them for making “furtive movements” — an excuse that police rarely used for stopping whites.

In Oakland, much like in New York, supporters of stop-and-frisk have also contended that the tactic lowers crime overall and substantially reduces the number of weapons on the street. But the ACLU also has pointed out that other large cities that do not use stop-and-frisk, such as Baltimore and Dallas, experienced greater reductions in crime during the last decade than New York. In addition, Scheindlin noted that 98.5 percent of the frisks performed by NYPD found no weapons.

Bloomberg said he will appeal Scheindlin’s decision, but it promises to be an uphill battle. The evidence produced at trial that stop-and-frisk is discriminatory and unconstitutional was overwhelming — so much so that the judge called for the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee reforms of NYPD.

In other words, New York is now facing the same kind of federal oversight that Oakland police have experienced for years. And if Oakland’s leaders had adopted stop-and-frisk earlier this year, OPD’s chances of finally emerging from federal control would have become even less likely than they already were.

Three-Dot Roundup

Bay Area commuters avoided another transit strike earlier this week when a San Francisco judge ordered a sixty-day cooling-off period for BART negotiations. Governor Jerry Brown and BART management had requested the two-month postponement because the transit agency and its employees remain far apart at the bargaining table and BART unions had planned to go on strike on August 12 in the absence of a new contract. … Governor Brown’s decision last year to require public employees to pay a higher portion of their retirement benefits has jeopardized billions of dollars in federal funding for transportation projects in California, the Sacrament Bee reported. The US Labor Department is contending that the governor’s pension overhaul violated federal laws that require union benefits for transit employees to be negotiated at the bargaining table — and not unilaterally imposed. As a result, federal officials are threatening to withhold $1.6 billion in funds for California this year alone. … And the US Department of Justice said California’s practice of keeping prison inmates in long-term solitary confinement represents “a risk of serious harm” to prisoners, the Los Angeles Times reported. Prisoners throughout the state have been holding a hunger strike over the past month because of the solitary confinement controversy, contending that the practice amounts to torture. The DOJ, however, stopped short of taking sides in the dispute between the state and prison inmates.


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