The controversial use of stop and frisk as a law enforcement tool has sparked a state-wide debate, especially in minority communities, over whether it amounts to unfair racial profiling and either needs to be reformed or eliminated. That was the topic of discussion at a town hall meeting in St. Albans on Thursday, organized by Public Advocate Bill deBlasio and area lawmakers.
Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) called stop and frisk “a valid tool,” but one that needs to be modified so that people are not stopped frivolously, and do not feel that their rights are being violated. He supports an emerging technology that would allow police officers to be able to detect whether someone is carrying a weapon from a distance, rather than having to pat the person down.
“I think as citizens, we should demand that they move ahead with this,” Scarborough said. “Because that could stop a lot of the tension of having to personally invade somebody’s body, personally invade their space.”
Mark Davis, a member of the New York City Motorcycle Advocacy Group, disagreed, stating that no matter what the form, the policy needs to be eliminated because it violates people’s civil rights, even if people are unaware that they are being scanned for a weapon.
“Just because technology might have the ability to search a person without a police officer putting their hands on them, isn’t that a violation of their civil rights anyway?” Davis asked. “Have they done anything wrong to justify that search? Reasonable suspicion, probable cause — all of these terms that we are all familiar with, should still be in effect regardless of the type of search that’s taking place.”
Scarborough also expressed support for the governor’s plan to decriminalize the open possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana, which he believes would reduce the number of stops because he says many people are detained on suspicion of having the drug.
The Rev. Philip Craig, president of the Queens chapter of the National Action Network, said the public stopping and frisking of people in the community sets a poor example for young people, who may grow up thinking that the type of relationship they are supposed to have with the police is one of fear instead of mutual respect.
“How many children are actually witnessing this?” Craig asked. “It now becomes not just an issue of law, but it becomes an issue of our children’s mindset. They are witnessing something that may look as though it is a way of life, and this is the problem.”
Jacques Leandre, president of the Rosedale Jets Football Association and a former City Council candidate, said the stop and frisk policy creates a hostile relationship between police and youth, results in numerous innocent people being frisked and should be stopped immediately. He said some young people have told him that they have been stopped so many times that when they see a police officer, the first thing they do is put both hands up.
In 2011, 685,724 city residents were stopped by the police, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. Of those 605,328 or 88 percent were innocent. Some 350,743 or 53 percent of those stopped were black, 223,740 were Latino and 61,805 were white. However, 90 percent of shooting suspects and victims are black or Hispanic, according to the Police Department.
“Not only are we conditioned to raise our hands, we are conditioned to give away our rights,” Leandre said. “And we have some rights that folks have bled for. We have rights that some folks have died for, so we have to be able to exercise those rights.”
Public Advocate Bill deBlasio, who is a supporter of reforming stop and frisk, said the city is on its way to 800,000 stops this year, which is the equivalent of detaining one out of every 10 New Yorkers. He blamed the media for perpetuating the notion that there is only one way to do things — in an increasingly invasive way — and that if people aren’t policed in that manner, crime would run rampant.
“What police leaders and thinkers around the country are increasingly saying is, ‘Police can be truly effective only in unison with the community and that police must be the agents of the community. They must be the servants of the community,’” deBlasio said. “That does not infer any lack of respect for police.”
Officers from the 103rd, 105th and 113th precincts were invited to attend the meeting, Scarborough said, but did not show up. Donna Clopton, president of the 103rd Precinct Community Council was present, though she did not speak publicly.