Why is Donald Trump talking about stop-and-frisk?

Nicholas Peart, a named witness in New York City’s landmark stop-and-frisk case Floyd v. the City of New York, was disturbed by a certain portion of Monday night’s debate — when Donald Trump passionately defended the use of a tactic with which Peart is very familiar.

Stop-and-frisk itself is a constitutional police practice by which officers are permitted to stop and even frisk civilians depending on standards of suspicion. But “stop-and-frisk” as Trump refers to it is a program mostly associated with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s police department, when officers were directed to make more and more stops with less and less suspicion of wrongdoing.

“It made no sense,” Peart told me on Tuesday.

Trump’s claim sent fact checkers scurrying: A federal judge did, indeed, find NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk racially discriminatory, a decision which the city appealed. When Mayor Bill de Blasio swept into office, he dropped his predecessor’s appeal so the question of constitutionality never went to a higher court.

Concerning effectiveness, Trump was incorrect to say that murders have increased since the current administration began reforming the practice — they have not. As the number of stops plummeted since 2011, murders also continued to decline. Certainly not evidence that the stops hold the line against violence, as Trump suggests.

But Trump wasn’t just wrong; he was ignorant to the deeper impacts of an out of control policy. That reckless use of stop-and-frisk “created a subculture of alienation,” says Peart.

The New York City experience

He’s in a good position to describe those ill effects, though he’s not alone.

He’s been stopped on his birthday, a gun pointed at him; frisked near his grandmother’s house in Brooklyn; stopped on the way home from the gym. In an influential Op-Ed published at the height of the stop-and-frisk era, he wrote “For a black man in his 20s like me, it’s just a fact of life in New York.”

This fact of life was experienced not by those with something to hide but overwhelmingly innocent New Yorkers. During the program’s heyday, approximately 90 percent of those stopped were totally innocent, according to NYCLU compilations of NYPD data — which Donna Lieberman of the NYCLU says “speaks volumes” particularly in an era of Broken Windows policing where NYPD is happy to ticket for minor infractions.

The Kafkaesque scenario where mostly minority men can expect to be stopped is what Trump is talking about when he trumpets frivolous use of this tactic of “law and order.” It’s not hard to find someone affected by it.

“I’m a good guy,” said Curtis King, 57. Wearing a button down short sleeve shirt, glasses, and an unassuming expression on his lunch break yesterday, he talked about his multiple experiences being stopped and frisked.

Some four years ago, while walking down a street in Harlem, two young officers handcuffed him under suspicion of buying marijuana. “They just seemed to pick me,” King says. He was black and in an area where people tended to sell marijuana. “I was humiliated.”

The conversation we should be having

No president has the direct authority to expand stop-and-frisk. But this is not an idle Trump refrain — he has mentioned it before, and it’s of a piece with his other campaign themes of firm justice at the expense of “others,” be they minorities or immigrants. Trump’s embracing of the policy is a disturbing reminder that many Americans, let alone New Yorkers, are quick to forget what a dark mark it continues to be.

Peart says the young ages of those targeted means their perception of police officers is solidified at “critical developmental stages.” That perception continues to this day and is tough to change, as even the NYPD knows: in an interview with the Daily News, new police Commissioner James O’Neill discussed the “stop-and-frisk debacle.”

Going back to its previous levels would be shameful as well as useless. On the contrary, there’s plenty of work to do going forward. Both in healing that wide chasm that O’Neill identified, and also in continuing to reform stop-and-frisk.

As the court-ordered monitor Peter Zimroth wrote in his second report on NYPD’s stop-and-frisk progress, it’s the lawfulness of stops that matters, not the quantity. Stops have plummeted, but the department still has plenty of work ahead of it in training its officers to act constitutionally when they perform the stops.

That’s the only discussion we should be having about stop-and-frisk, not how to expand it.


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