On Monday, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the New York Police Department's "stop-and-frisk" practices violated the constitutional rights of millions of people, particularly Black and Latino males. The legal victory of Floyd v. the City of New York is a very important one that should be celebrated for laying the groundwork for more just and equitable relations between the police and the citizens of New York City. However, if we are truly committed to having safe and empowered communities free of police terror there is a great distance to go.
The ruling on "stop-and-frisk" was rebuffed by it's greatest champion, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In a press conference following the ruling, he claimed that Judge Scheindlin "conveyed a disturbing disregard for the good intentions of our police officers, who form the most diverse Police Department in the country, and who put their lives on the line for us every single day." He intends to appeal her decision.
Along with NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, the mayor had doubled down in support of their discriminatory practices in the past year. In June Bloomberg stated, "… I think we disproportionately stop Whites too much and minorities too little." Kelly has repeatedly claimed "stop-and-frisk" is not racial profiling and is central to NYPD’s policing, despite the fact that 87 percent of stops were of Black and Latino and 89 percent of those stopped were innocent. Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly’s comments not only represent a deaf ear turned towards the cries of all their constituents; they also demonstrate a commitment to justifying bad practice at the expense of the poor and marginalized.
The Floyd decision creates a monitor, Peter Zimroth, who is responsible for overseeing compliance with the Constitution to assure that "stop-and-frisk" is not being used. While this is a step forward, it is not enough. The judge-appointed monitor is only concerned with "stop-and-frisk," yet there are a host of other police-community relations issues that remain unattended.
It should be noted that in June, the City Council passed a bill—the Community Safety Act—to create an Inspector General who holds subpoena power and will serve as an independent voice in auditing overall police operations. Not surprisingly, Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the creation of the Inspector General position. In response, the bill's sponsors, including Brooklyn City Councilman Juumane Williams, will attempt to override the veto on August 22nd.
The Floyd victory and the passing of the Community Safety Acts come as the result of intensive grassroots organizing and advocacy. Both Communities United for Police Reform and the People’s Justice Coalition have galvanized and energized concern around police misconduct and community well being. While the stop-and-frisking of Black and Latino males is currently the most widely discussed offense committed by the NYPD, there are many other issues to be concerned with, such as the surveillance of Muslim communities and the profiling of transgendered residents. Taken together, we should see these cases as mounting evidence that unchecked police force endangers its citizens, as opposed to protecting and serving them.
On the heels of the Zimmerman acquittal and the persistent extrajudicial killings of Black people, the time for coalition politics and activism is now. The Floyd victory is but one step in a long march to safer and more empowered communities. If we fail to see the larger realities and mobilize around the need for police reform, we run the risk of allowing the NYPD—the largest police force in the United States—to regroup and renew tactics that, at best, impinge on constitutional rights and, at worst, cost us too many promising lives.
Dr. R. L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York. His work concentrates on race, education and gender. You can follow him on Twitter @dumilewis or visit his website.
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