The only African American candidate in New York City’s mayoral race, who has taken a moderate position on the city’s aggressive stop-and-frisk program, invoked Trayvon Martin’s death in lambasting racial discrimination in the New York Police Department’s rampant stops, saying the city has “institutionalized” George Zimmerman’s racially charged suspicion.
In comments that echoed those of President Barack Obama on Trayvon Martin and racial profiling, former city comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. broke into uncharacteristically impassioned and personal remarks that made plain he believes Martin died because he was black, and that no one else should have to. The New York Times reports:
“Here in New York City, we have institutionalized Mr. Zimmerman’s suspicion with a policy that all but requires our police officers to treat young black and Latino men with suspicion, to stop them and frisk them because of the color of their skin.” [...]
Of what Mr. Thompson said were the 600,000 blacks and Latinos stopped by the New York police in 2011, a vast majority were innocent, he said — “profiled as Trayvon was profiled.”
“If our government profiles people because of skin color and treats them as potential criminals, how can we expect citizens to do any less?” Mr. Thompson asked, as church members loudly applauded and occasionally interrupted with cries of “amen.” [...]
“Trayvon Martin did die because he was black. Of that, there is no doubt,” Mr. Thompson said, adding, “The verdict in Florida was a verdict — but it was not the verdict.”
The New York Police Department’s aggressive program for stopping those on the street suspected of criminal activity has come increasingly under fire as a months-long trial in a class-action challenge to the program revealed additional evidence that the Department sets quotas on the number of stop-and-frisks, instructs officers to target black men, and taunts young teens. In 2011, the Department made more stops of young black men than the population of young black men in the city.
Unlike fellow Democratic candidate John C. Liu, the current city Comptroller, Thompson does not seek to abolish the stop-and-frisk program entirely. He even opposes a legislature-passed bill to authorize racial profiling lawsuits against the police that was vetoed last week by Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I). But he would remove Police Commissioner Raymond C. Kelly, who has led the unprecedented expansion of the stop-and-frisk program; ban racial profiling; and put more officers on the street in high-crime areas to reduce false reliance on race as a proxy for criminal suspicion. In a debate with Liu on the topic, Thompson defended the measure as a means of fighting crime, snapping, “I’m the one who has to worry about my son getting shot on the street.” Thompson’s position, however, has thwarted an endorsement from Rev. Al Sharpton and other high-profile African American Democrats.
Fellow Democratic candidates Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio would also stop short of abolishing stop-and-frisk, but de Blasio supported the legislature’s reform bills. Quinn opposes the racial profiling bill, but allowed it come to a vote.
Since Mayor Bloomberg took office, the NYPD has expanded its use of stop-and-frisks, completing 5 million stops during his tenure alone — 4.4 million of innocent people. But some version of this tactic has been common nationwide, since a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision authorized police to stop individuals on the street even where they don’t have probably cause for their arrest. Under this decision, police may briefly stop individuals if they have “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity, and frisk that suspect if they suspect after questioning that the person is armed. Although the tactic was intended to protect against violent crime, the NYPD’s program has yielded more arrests for marijuana than anything else.
This post has been updated to clarify that Christine Quinn does not support the New York legislature’s racial profiling bill, but allowed it come to a vote.