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Queens Chronicle

Stop, frisk: unconstitutional

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Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2012 10:30 am

Dear Editor:

Thank you for your thoughtful editorial on the “stop and frisk” policy of the NYPD (“The stop and frisk debate,” Oct. 18). This policy has created much controversy over the personal mistreatment of thousands of young men, especially African American and Hispanic young men. Your position is expressed in reasonable and practicable terms with a sensitivity not shown on editorial pages of many other city newspapers. You acknowledge concerns that some officers have abused this policy with unreasonable force and frequent disrespect. But the most outrageous abuse is the disproportionate targeting of African Americans without cause except for the color of their skin.

We must conclude, therefore, that this is racially motivated as well as a draconian and unconstitutional disregard for the basic rights of thousands of New Yorkers who are subjected to unreasonable searches and seizure. It gives license to arbitrarily harass and intimidate, yes even criminalize, thousands of young men based on their skin color. Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin has already ruled that “there is overwhelming evidence” that thousands have been unlawfully stopped. Additionally, a separate lawsuit filed against the NYPD has been given class action status by another federal judge for the gross constitutional violation of citizens’ right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures.

Additionally, the concern you expressed about the financial liability to which the city is exposed is well-founded; and, indeed, I do believe that financial damages should be awarded, in keeping with basic tort law, to the hundreds of thousands of plaintiffs whose constitutional rights have been violated. It appears as if the mayor and his advisors have learned nothing from the recent federal court ruling regarding the racist testing practices of the New York City Fire Department that denied hundreds of African Americans and Latinos the opportunity to become firefighters. The city was held liable for $129 million in damages! This decision also included penalties as well as the costs of a federal monitor for the next 10 years to oversee the hiring and rewriting of the tests.

The mayor and the NYPD continue to ignore the constitutional rights of thousands of young men which are being violated on a daily basis. These “stops and frisks” have not made our communities any safer. And they ignore the potential monetary damages that the city risks by continuing to do them. We cannot let hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers be subjected to this police state mentality, have their basic constitutional rights violated and spend millions of dollars from the city treasury in court settlements.

I have little confidence that the police will police themselves without the intervention of the courts. I also support the appointment of an inspector general to monitor the NYPD. Otherwise there is little likelihood that they will end this practice. They will only continue to violate the rights of countless young African Americans and Latinos; and risk New Yorkers the cost of millions in damages which we can ill afford. I support the City Council bill being proposed for the appointment of an inspector general to oversee the NYPD.

Elmer H. Blackburne

The writer is a Democratic district leader in the 29th Assembly District.

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