In open defiance of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, New York’s City Council last week passed two bills aimed at curbing the NY Police Department’s practice of “stop-and-frisk,” which has been among the most effective crime-fighting tactics ever employed. One of the bills mandates the appointment of an independent inspector general to monitor the department for evidence that its use of stop-and-frisk may be unfairly targeting blacks and Hispanics; the other opens the door to racial profiling lawsuits against the NYPD. Black Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Queens), who prides himself on being a strong voice against profiling, says that he himself was once “dehumanized” by the experience of being stopped and frisked as a teen, and thus wishes to spare other minority youth the same pain.
In a nutshell, the laws governing stop-and-frisk permit police to briefly detain a person upon reasonable suspicion of his or her involvement in, or intent to commit, a crime—even if there is not yet enough evidence to make an arrest. To justify such a stop, an officer must be able to cite “specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.” During detention, an officer may question the suspect and, if he deems it advisable, conduct a weapon search by frisking the suspect’s outer garments.
But civil-liberties and civil-rights activists nationwide—and in New York particularly—routinely charge that stop-and-frisk practices are racist because they target nonwhite minorities in disproportionate numbers. Manhattan Institute Fellow Heather MacDonald, who has done immensely important work in researching the facts about stop-and-frisk and placing them in proper perspective, notes that in 2011 in New York City, African Americans, who constituted 23% of the city’s population, were fully 53% of all police-stop subjects. By contrast, whites were 35% of the city’s population but only 9% of stop subjects.
Left-wing outfits like the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights maintain that if the racial makeup of those affected by “stop-and-frisk” does not mirror the racial makeup of the surrounding community as a whole, we can deduce that racism and/or discrimination are at work. But these critics omit the most important facts of all from the equation: In New York City during 2011, black offenders were responsible for 66% of all violent crimes, including approximately 70% of robberies and 80% of shootings. Blacks and Hispanics, combined, accounted for an astonishing 98% of all shootings in the city. Whites, by contrast, were responsible for only 5% of New York’s violent crimes, and scarcely 1% of its civilian shootings.
These plain and inarguable facts explain precisely why the residents of black and Hispanic neighborhoods seem to be “targets” of stop-and-frisk more often than residents of mostly white areas. In some cases, crime rates in minority neighborhoods are literally dozens of times higher than elsewhere.
The statistics above, it should be noted, raise a vital question that merits contemplation: If blacks constitute 66% of all violent offenders but only 53% of stop-and-frisk targets, and if whites are just 5% of violent offenders but fully 9% of stop-and-frisk targets, could it not be argued that it is actually whites, and not blacks, who are disproportionately “targeted” by stop-and-frisk?
And here’s another reasonable question that deserves an answer: While critics claim that stop-and-frisk policies “target” blacks and Hispanics in minority neighborhoods, why do they not also say that such policies, in another sense, selectively favor blacks and Hispanics by devoting a vastly disproportionate share of police manpower and city resources to protecting them and their communities? After all, it isn’t only the perpetrators in those places who are overwhelming black and Hispanic; the victims are mostly members of those demographics as well.
The role of stop-and-frisk in New York increased dramatically after Rudolph Giuliani replaced David Dinkins as mayor in 1994,and was one among a constellation of effective new strategies introduced by Giuliani. Others included so-called “broken windows” policing, which clamped down on petty crimes as a way to also forestall more serious offenses, and the use of COMPSTAT, a computer technology tool that helped pinpoint specific high-crime neighborhoods geographically on a map. The results of Giuliani’s efforts were extraordinary, as evidenced by the fact that during his eight years in office, the incidence of homicide in the city fell from an annual average of 2,085 during the Dinkins administration, to just 649 by the final year of Giuliani’s tenure. From a statistcal standpoint, this was by far the most dramatic crime drop in the recorded history of America, unrivaled by reductions in any other city. The positive trends continued under Giuliani’s successor, Michael Bloomberg, with total homicides in the city ranging between 471 and 597 during each of his first ten years in office.
Those who have benefited most, by far, from the stop-and-frisk policies put in place by Giuliani (and later, Bloomberg) are the black and Hispanic residents of such traditionally high-crime areas as Brooklyn’s 75th Precinct, Bedford-Stuyvesant’s 81st Precinct, and Harlem’s 28th Precinct. Indeed, blacks and Hispanics have accounted for fully 79% of the decline in homicide victims citywide since 1993. If, from 1993 forward, crime rates would have stayed at their Dinkins-era levels—rather than at the much lower levels brought about by the Giuliani/Bloomberg administrations—more than 10,000 additional black and Hispanic males would have met an early death-by-homicide during the past two decades. Also during that period, the number of rapes that occurred annually in New York City declined by 54.8%; robberies fell by 80.3%; felony assaults dropped by 57.8%; and burglaries were reduced by 84.6%. This means that many tens of thousands of black and Hispanic would-be victims were spared the anguish associated with those crimes as well.
Yet none of these facts matter in the least to our perpetually outraged champions of “civil rights” and “civil liberties,” wedded, as they are, to their quasi-religious conviction that white racism lurks menacingly around every corner and lies at the heart of public policies like stop-and-frisk. Thus do we see the spectacle of New York State Senator Eric Adams, a staunch opponent of “racial profiling,” pining for a return to the halcyon days of the Dinkins administration, when, according to Adams, even current police commissioner Raymond Kelly, who also served under Dinkins, was made of kinder, gentler stuff: “Kelly was one of the great humanitarians in policing under David Dinkins,” says Adams. “I don’t know what happened to him that all of a sudden his philosophical understanding of the importance of community and police liking each other has changed.” The “humanitarianism” that Adams wistfully longs to restore came at a dear price, however, and went a long way toward filling the graveyards of New York.
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