The long running case against the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) “stop and frisk” policy remains in limbo as five lawyers filed papers on Nov. 11 seeking to reverse the ruling that removed Manhattan federal judge Shira Scheindlin from the case. This request came several days after city lawyers asked the same three-judge panel to throw out the judge’s ruling against the NYPD.
The removal, which was enacted by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, was rationalized by determining Scheindlin “ran afoul” of the code of conduct for U.S. judges and compromised “the appearance of impartiality.”
According to the Second Circuit, her “impartiality” was compromised because she misapplied a previous ruling that allowed her to take the case and gave interviews to news organizations during the trial.
The idea of “impartiality” from a judge is reasonable. After all, the justice system should be neutral and fair. But asking judges to not have views about laws is illogical and will keep the legal system unfair, especially regarding institutionalized discrimination.
“Stop and frisk” disproportionately targets low-income communities — mostly black and Latino men. This tactic gives the NYPD the right to question and search people without reasonable suspicion.
Considering the NYPD is not impartial with who they decide to stop, questioning Judge Scheindlin’s impartiality is unfair. Maintaining objectivity is unethical when the law itself is a reflection of institutionalized racism. Judge Scheindlin’s experience with “stop and frisk” cases in the past, and her extensive work with the most recent one against the city makes her competent, not biased.
According to the filing, the plaintiffs in the case—four African Americans and the “hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers they represent”—have already experienced prejudice by the reassignment of the judge unfamiliar with the complicated case.
In August, Judge Scheindlin ruled against the city, calling the “stop and frisk” practice unconstitutional. She ordered reform, including assigning an independent monitor to assure the NYPD followed her rulings.
Asking to throw out Judge Scheindlin’s ruling, the city’s brief states, “The effectiveness of a city’s police department depends importantly on the respect and trust of the community and on the perception in the community that it enforces the law fairly, even-handedly, and without bias.”
We at City on a Hill Press agree. However, it is unclear about which community is being addressed.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who takes office in January, is a vocal opponent of the “stop and frisk” practice. He produced a report concluding “African-American and Latino New Yorkers comprise only 54 percent of the general population. They constituted 84 percent of all stops in 2012, and 88.8 percent of the people stopped were not charged.”
Recorded stops increased, reaching an all-time high in 2011 at 684,330, including mostly black and Latino men. To make a stop, the police must have “reasonable suspicion” that a crime is about to occur or has occurred, a standard lower than the probable cause needed to justify an arrest.
Only about 10 percent of the stops result in arrests or summonses and weapons are found about 2 percent of the time, according to the Associated Press.
After Judge Scheindlin’s initial ruling, current mayor Michael Bloomberg said she “ignored the real world realities of crime,” but these recent statistics call into question the effectiveness of “stop and frisk,” even if crime has decreased.
The reduction of crime has come at the cost of many innocent people being wrongly detained, unnecessarily questioned and racially profiled. When walking down the street while being brown or black is enough to arise suspicion, the question is, which communities are being “protected?” The answer is not inclusive to all communities of color, as long as “stop and frisk” is an institutionalized policing tactic.
City on a Hill Press supports mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s decision to drop the city’s appeal of Judge Scheindlin’s ruling, as this will encourage the NYPD to build trust with the communities it is supposed to protect: all New York City citizens.