Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Civil Rights and Minorities: Stop-and-Frisk Application Ruled Unconstitutional; DOJ to Curtail Harsh Drug Sentences

By Claudio Iván Remeseira | Posted Monday, August 12, 2013, at 3.55 p.m. ET. Last modified: Wed., August 14, 2013, at 1.31 p.m. ET. 

Two landamrk decisions Monday, one by a federal judge in New York and other by the Department of Justice, indicated a major shift in the national approach to the fight against crime and its connection to the civil rights of minorities.

A devastating blow to one of the most controversial policing tactics was delivered by Judge Shira Schiendlin in a long and thorough ruling stating that the stop-and-frisk practices implemented by the New York Police Department violate the civil rights of tens of thousands of people--overwhelmingly black and Latino young men. The ruling also calls for an independent monitor to oversee changes to those policies.

In her 198-page opinion, Jugde Schiendlin essentially made three points:

1.  Stop-and-frisk is racial profiling.
2. The procedure violates the 4th amendment (unreasonable search and seizure clause) ...
3. ... as well as the 14th amendment (equal protection clause) of the Constitution.

Stop-and-frisk has been a policy of the NYPD for decades (see Timeline), but criticism over the racial discrimination involved in its actual practice has escalated in recent years.

Of the 4.4 million people stopped between 2004 and 2012 by the NYPD, 83 percent were black or Hispanic and 88 percent of them were not arrested (BuzzFeed's Adrián Carrasquillo asked young New Yorkers about their personal experience of stop-and-frisk, and he got some chilling responses.)

As Justin Peters points out in Slate, for more than a decade the Department has systematically ignored the criticism launched by community and media against stop-and-frisk. Now, the ruling effectively dismantles that policy as it's currently known.

At a news conference after the ruling Michael Bloomberg vehemently defended stop-and-frisk--a centerpiece of his legacy as Mayor--, saying that it has been key to turn New York into one of the safest cities in the United States. With Police commissioner Ray Kelly by his side, Bloomberg denied the judge's allegations of racial profiling and said that the City will appeal the ruling.

While over the past decade there has been a dramatic fall of crime in New York and elsewhere in the country, there is little hard evidence to demonstrate a direct correlation between such decline and stop-and-frisk. Even more shockingly: the majority of people found in the possession of a weapon in New York City under this practice turned out to be white, what highlights the unbalanced racial nature of the procedure.

In a separate but related news, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced in a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting that the Obama administration will seek to ease federal prisons overcrowding by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses (Watch VIDEO)

Both the Judge Schiendlin ruling and the DOJ announcement come up in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin case, which brought the debate about structural racism in the criminal justice system to the center of the national conversation.

The stop-and-frisk class action lawsuit, Floyd v. City of New York, was brought by the Center of Constitutional Rights and the law firms of Beldock, Levine, and Hoffman and Covington & Burling, LLP.  

Read more at The New York Times, The Grio, The Washington Post, SlateThe Atlantic 

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