There is much that is extraordinary about Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s decision in Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al. The 198-page ruling, issued Monday morning, effectively dismantles the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy as it currently stands. Scheindlin rips apart the “NYPD’s practice of making stops that lack individualized reasonable suspicion,” appoints an independent monitor to help the department reform the policy and bring it in line with the law, and generally validates the notion that stop-and-frisk has been a colossal infringement on citizens’ civil rights. But even considering the sweeping language in her decision, the most extraordinary thing about Scheindlin’s ruling is the fact that it exists at all—that the NYPD didn’t see fit to reform itself in the face of such obvious abuses.
It has long been obvious that the NYPD has deliberately targeted young Black and Hispanic men for stops and frisks, regardless of whether there was any reason to believe they were engaged in criminal behavior. Floyd v. City of New York, which was argued in a two-month trial this spring, did nothing to dispel that notion. In her ruling, Scheindlin finds that the department “has repeatedly turned a blind eye to clear evidence of unconstitutional stops and frisks,” and has let racial bias guide its actions. Given the amount of evidence in the case, it was the only possible conclusion.
But a long trial and a federal monitor certainly wasn’t the only possible resolution. As Scheindlin notes more than once in her ruling, the NYPD has had ample opportunity to changes its ways over the past decade and a half. In 1999, a New York Attorney General’s report “placed the City on notice that stops and frisks were being conducted in a racially skewed manner,” and recommended a “broad, public dialogue” about the policy. In 2003, the city settled the case of Daniels, et al. v. City of New York, which alleged that the NYPD was improperly stopping and frisking members of certain races; as part of the settlement, the department was charged with developing a written, binding anti-racial profiling policy, and with providing audit data about stops and frisks to the Center for Constitutional Rights. In 2010, after the Village Voice reported on secret audio tapes made by Officer Adrian Schoolcraft that showed commanding officers exhorting their subordinates to make quotas, the state passed a law prohibiting police departments from retaliating against officers who fail to meet those quotas. Throughout this time period, and especially over the past couple of years, the local and national media have increasingly criticized stop-and-frisk.