Racial Profiling or Not?: NYPD
This article on CNN.com relates to the compare/contrast post that we plan on completing soon for the blog. The article seems to be written from the perspective that racial profiling is bad, but presents examples that can help better flesh out the arguments for and against racial profiling in the United States.
As the article states, “…New York police are allowed to stop and question anyone on the street if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person was involved in illegal activity, is about to commit a crime or is carrying a gun.” (CNN) The New York Police Department is allowed to “stop, question, and frisk” anyone who they deem suspicious and capable of (or already committing) a crime. The article adds, “Close to 700,000 of the searches took place in New York last year, a record number.” (CNN)
The police argue that this “frisking” policy takes lots of guns off the streets, and thus theoretically limits the violence in the area. New York City Council Member Peter Vallone Jr. says, “’Stop, question and frisk’ takes about 800 guns a year off the streets.” (CNN) I think that this practice is overstepping the boundaries of being a free citizen.
While the number of police “frisk” searches have greatly increased in the last few years, the number of shootings in the city has stayed roughly the same. According to the article, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly “testified that 96% of shooting victims in New York are people of color and therefore, stopping and questioning suspicious individuals in minority communities is justified. He said about half of the stops actually result in a “limited pat-down” and only 9% result in a more thorough search.” (CNN) Delores Jones-Brown, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, said, “the majority of people who are stopped are black, followed by Hispanics, then white people.” (CNN) Jones-Brown adds, “Almost 90% of those stops do not result in an arrest or a summons being issued.” (CNN) If the searching leads to little or no arrests, then the process would appear to be futile. If police were really concerned with stopping violent crimes and getting criminals off the streets, they would utilize their time and resources better. Instead of wasting their time inconveniencing innocent people, they would work towards finding the real criminals and searching them. For innocent people will be really inconvenienced if they are robbed from or murdered by a criminal that the police could have stopped with better preparation.
The fact that the police are trying to put an end to violence and death on the streets is definitely a good thing. However, who is to judge the appearance of “suspicious individuals?” Should the police be passing judgment on people who are probably innocent, or are there no other options to ensure the safety of the community? The CNN article also alludes to the prospect of racial profiling by the NYPD, as most of the “suspicious individuals” are nonwhite. Just because people might wear baggy pants or bandanas, doesn’t mean that they are part of a gang. Same with tattoos and smoking, or any other minuscule thing that the police can determine as “suspicious.” Most of these examples have worked their way into everyday American fashion and social norms, and as the above studies seem to indicate, most people are not criminals.
According to the RAND Corporation, a non-profit research organization for the public and private sectors, “In 2006, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) stopped a half-million pedestrians for suspected criminal involvement. Raw statistics for these encounters suggest large racial disparities, [as] 89 percent of the stops involved nonwhites.” (RAND)
I do not think that these “frisk” searches are the solution, as they present an inherently racial bias/profiling. Even if the police officer is not racist, there is no way around the problem that if you stop someone who is a different race then you, you will be called out for racial profiling. If the government needs to have probable cause to search someone’s home, or wiretap their phone, then this same law should carry over to free citizens walking or driving on the streets. Unless there is probable cause to search someone, the police need to mind their own business. For example, just because the majority of shooting victims in New York are nonwhite, doesn’t mean that every minority is carrying a gun and intends to commit a crime. That is not to say that the police shouldn’t stay vigilant on the job; that is what they are trained and paid to do. If they think someone is suspicious, they need to search them. But if they think that the person is “suspicious” in the more racial context, they need to find other solutions than just frisking them and violating the person’s liberties. Otherwise, police officers lose their credibility and authority with the general public. People won’t listen to officers who they recognize as racist, especially in communities where minorities and people of color are present. For police officers to be truly effective, they have to prove to the public by their actions and conduct that they treat every citizen equally, no matter the citizen’s race, which in this country means innocent until proven guilty, or innocent until proven suspicious. If officers spend most of their time conducting futile searches on innocent people, they risk the chance that true criminals are able to slip though the cracks.