During the just-concluded trial on the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program, the city argued that officers’ disproportionate targeting of black and Latino New Yorkers was not due to racial profiling but because each stopped individual was doing something suspicious at the time. The data, however, tells a different story: weapons and drugs were more often found on white New Yorkers during stops than on minorities, according to the Public Advocate’s analysis of the NYPD’s 2012 statistics.
White New Yorkers make up a small minority of stop-and-frisks, which were 84 percent black and Latino residents. Despite this much higher number of minorities deemed suspicious by police, the likelihood that stopping an African American would find a weapon was half the likelihood of finding one on a white person.
• The likelihood a stop of an African American New Yorker yielded a weapon was half that of white New Yorkers stopped. The NYPD uncovered a weapon in one out every 49 stops of white New Yorkers. By contrast, it took the Department 71 stops of Latinos and 93 stops of African Americans to find a weapon.
• The likelihood a stop of an African American New Yorker yielded contraband was one-third less than that of white New Yorkers stopped. The NYPD uncovered contraband in one out every 43 stops of white New Yorkers. By contrast, it took the Department 57 stops of Latinos and 61 stops of African Americans to find contraband.
It’s unlikely that the appropriate lesson to take from these findings is that stops of white people should increase because they are more likely to carry weapons and drugs. Rather, they suggest that police are excessively targeting minorities. Officers may be netting more successful stops of white New Yorkers because they are only likely to stop a white person when they actually suspect that person of committing a crime. Considering one officer’s testimony that superiors explicitly directed him to target young black men, minorities are judged by a much more flexible definition of “reasonable suspicion.”
And this loose approach to the Constitution’s ban on unlawful searches and seizures is part of a larger pattern of African-Americans being targeted by police. In one incident an officer cuffed and detained a 13-year-old African American boy, the son of a former cop, for six hours because he allegedly reached into his pants’ waistband. Other cops punched and pepper-sprayed a 38-year-old veteran who was discussing Memorial Day plans with friends on a street corner. Yet another black man reported being stopped and arrested 4 times in one year on criminal trespass charges later dismissed by a judge.
In general, stop-and-frisk has proven to be remarkably ineffective; nearly 89 percent of all stops result in no charges. The city has also had to settle a surging number of civil rights lawsuits against police to the tune of $22 million in one year.