An Epidemic of Furtive Movement

It would be a  New York joke if it didn’t mean that 684,000 people were stopped on the streets of New York and frisked last year.  In 2003, cops stopped and frisked 160,851 people and recovered 604 guns. This proved that stop and frisked worked, even if it meant the sacrifice of the right to be left alone of more than 150,000 people. 

Last year, they recovered 780 guns, proportionately negligible, which again proves that stop and frisk works.  Mayor Bloomberg explains that the reason so few guns per capita were seized is that  people are afraid to walk around the guns for fear of being stopped and frisked.  With that rationale, the program is a rousing success no matter what comes of it.

More than half of all stops were conducted because the individual displayed “furtive movements” — which is so vague as to be meaningless.

The data also show that the police are significantly more likely to use force when they stop blacks and Hispanics than when they stop whites. This means minority targets are more likely to be slammed against walls or spread-eagled while officers go through their belongings. Even when victims are unhurt, they are likely to develop a deep and abiding distrust of law enforcement.

Let’s be clear: if police could stop at will anyone they wanted, they would turn up more illegal stuff, whether guns or drugs, than they would if they were limited by something like, oh, a Constitution.  Same is true if they could search houses at will.  Or people traveling on airplanes.

That Mayor Bloomberg has to stretch so far to spin what he knows to be a flagrantly unlawful program is telling. He’s not stupid. Few billionaires are, and even then, they have the wherewithal to surround themselves with smart people.  Somebody must have mentioned to him at some point that this really isn’t kosher.  When the  Newspaper That Shall Not Be Named Here Anymore has an editorial stating that stop and frisk is a terribly wrong thing to do, does Punch Sulzberger think it’s going to change something? 

What this reflects is the Mayor’s relative weighing of two irreconcilable responsibilities, one to protect New Yorker’s from crime, and the other to respect New Yorker’s right to walk the streets without being slammed against a wall for no particular reason.  When David Dinkins was hizzoner, there were bloodbaths on the streets of uptown Manhattan, and chains ripped from the necks of white folks downtown.  Dinkins wasn’t as inclined to promote the police rousting people at will and people screamed about the murder and mugging rates.  Of course, the crack epidemic might have had something to do with it as well.

But times have changed, as has the regime on power, and the mess that existed under Dinkins, and exacerbated under his successor, Rudy “If Only I Could Be President” Giuliani, have given way to substantially reduced crime, particularly gun crime.  The penalties for possession of a weapon are far more severe than they used to be, and the demographics have changed as well.

So naturally, the solution is the perpetuation of a program at whose core is the evisceration of the constitutional right to be left alone.  And naysayers aside, it works, even if it means that many hundreds of thousand of people have to give up a little so that the residents of Sutton Place can sleep at night.

Because filling out forms is the highest order of government service, police officers are expected to do two things: Each time they stop and frisk someone, fill out a form.  Each time they fill out a stop and frisk form, state the basis for the stop.  And so they do.

This has been going on since the beginning of the program, when naive people (like me) thought 160,851 people stopped for no reason was an outrage.  Now that we’re closing in on 700,000, maybe it’s time to be honest with ourselves.  While there has been some squawking from the Newspaper Who Shall Not be Named Here Anymore, the NYCLU and a couple bloggers, there has been no massive uprising against the stop and frisk program.  Bloomberg continues in his post as Ruler for Life, and Ray Kelly bobble-head dolls continue to sell like hotcakes. 

Forget Mapp v. Ohio, which  the uninitiated seem to think applies, and even DeBour, which provides the constitutional limits to police seizures in New York.  Every lawyer, every judge, every politician, every cop and certainly every black and Hispanic, in New York knows that to walk the streets of Manhattan is to invite a stop and frisk.  No, the law says they can’t do it. Yes, they do it anyway. No, as the numbers climb closer to a million souls stripped of their right to walk on the street without being tossed in the name of safety, there are no cries of revolution.

There is no epidemic of furtive movements.  Let’s put the lie to rest, stop demanding that cops keep breaking the law again by filing false documents at the behest of the administration, and put up a big sign at the midtown tunnel: All persons subject to search. 

The choice has been made and the Constitution lost. At least show New Yorkers the courtesy of being honest about it.


6 thoughts on “An Epidemic of Furtive Movement

  1. Karl Hungus

    This is a really great piece you’ve written.

    As long as stop-and-frisk is happening almost exclusively to non-whites, then it will be allowed to continue. Because when you cut to the chase, the unspoken truth here is that the wealthy white liberals of New York City want to be kept safe from the dark hordes. The fact that these efforts are especially concentrated in Manhattan – New York City’s richest area – suggests that they want to be kept separate from them as well.

  2. Eddie

    The Constitution always loses when it comes to fighting the war on drugs/crime or fighting terror here in the Big Apple. I know a few higher ranking cops who admit without hesitation that their people make shit up to justify the number of stop and frisks they do. But they justify this by complaining about how much pressure is being brought on them to produce numbers and, as we all know, s**t rolls downhill so they put the squeeze on the guys walking the beat to get their numbers up. And so on and so forth.

    Another fine example of the Constitution losing here in NYC is the inspection of every commercial vehicle anywhere near Wall Street or the WTC. I don’t profess to be a Constitutional scholar but I have reviewed Idianapolis v. Edmond, US v. Martinez-Fuerete, Deleware v. Prouse and Illinois v. Lidster and I see absolutely no justification for these stops. Not even close. Yet Kaiser Bloomberg and his bobble head Kelly continue to order these warrantless/suspicionless stops every day in the name of “fighting terror” and no one says a word.

    As is the usually the case, no one cares unless and until they are affected and right now the people that matter aren’t affected by the stop and frisk policy. Rather, the people that matter gain from it.

  3. SHG

    They tend to follow my lead.

    Just listened to the broadcast. I’m now stupider than before.

  4. Leo

    I pondered calling in, but realized that I was better off continuing to work on my client’s matters than fighting idiots calling into NPR.

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