When Professor Jeffrey Fagan concluded that the sun shines during the day, people like the taste of chocolate and New York City cops stop and frisk blacks and Hispanics for no particular reason, there was a collective yawn. It’s not like everybody didn’t already know this. Bob Herbert takes up arms over the obvious in his column in the New York Times.
The police in New York City are not just permitted, they are encouraged to trample on the rights of black and Hispanic New Yorkers by relentlessly enforcing the city’s degrading, unlawful and outright racist stop-and-frisk policy. Hundreds of thousands of wholly innocent individuals, most of them young, are routinely humiliated by the police, day in and day out, year after shameful year.
The rate of gun seizures is near zero — 0.15 guns seized for every 100 stops. “The N.Y.P.D. stop-and-frisk tactics,” wrote Professor Fagan, “produce rates of seizures of guns or other contraband that are no greater than would be produced simply by chance.”
More important, after studying six years’ worth of data, the professor concluded that many of the millions of stops are violations of the Constitution. One of a number of constitutional problems, according to Professor Fagan, is that the police frequently use race or national origin rather than reasonable suspicion as the basis for the stops.
Got it. Check. We’re all shocked. So what?
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which filed the class-action suit, wants the Police Department barred from engaging in what the center describes as race-based and “suspicionless stops and frisks.”
Now I like the Center for Constitutional Rights as much as the next guy. No, I really do. But what exactly is the relief they seek from this class-action? An order telling the cops not to do what they are already prohibited from doing? Wow, then they’ll really feel bad. “You should be ashamed of yourselves, you coppers. Don’t do anything unlawful again!”
Yeah, that’ll fix ’em good.
This is a problem of massive proportions. We’re talking about millions, MILLIONS, of stop and frisks over a period of six years of completely, totally, 110% innocent people.
From 2004 through 2009, city police officers stopped people on the street and checked them out nearly three million times. Many were patted down, frisked, made to sprawl face down on the ground, or spread-eagle themselves against a wall or over the hood of a car. Nearly 90 percent of the people stopped were completely innocent of any wrongdoing.
While the remedy for an unconstitutional stop and frisk that results in an arrest may (or may not) be suppression, the 90% ordered to kiss pavement and get some boot-love while wandering hands touch private parts get nothing. Zero, zippo, nada. There’s no incentive for the police not to stop and frisk at will because there’s no price to be paid for it. Find something and get an arrest. Find nothing and move on to the next black man (and by that, I do not mean white men in black robes, in which case the problem would be fixed lickety-split).
The well-intended, angry but naive reader at this point wants to scream, they should sue those nasty cops for every penny they’ve got. Well that’s not going to happen, for laundry list of reason, so let’s just get past it as it’s been explained ad nauseam why it’s not feasible.
Struggling with this question, however, I’ve come up with a solution. Every time a cop frisks someone and comes up empty, he should have to pay the person $10. Not so much as to strike fear in the wallet of a police officer, but enough to make a cop think twice before hassling someone for nothing. After, ten dollars here and ten dollars there, and pretty soon you’re talking about a day without donuts.
Okay, it’s not a foolproof plan. It’s got some flaws, like the cop who refuses to pay over the $10 and leaves the friskee without recourse. Or the addicts begging for a frisk so they can get their next fix.
But no class-action decision is going to change anything on the streets, any more than another column by Bob Herbert about a policy that everyone knows stinks, and yet continues unabated, is going to make the police feel really badly about humiliating blacks and Hispanics.
We need recourse. We need redress. We need a way to stop this rampant refusal to honor a person’s constitutional right to walk the streets of New York City without being subject to one’s constitutional rights being violated at will. The courts won’t do it. The cops won’t do it. The politicians won’t do it. Heck, they all encourage it, though they would never exactly say so.
So anybody have a viable answer? We could certainly use one.