Before signing a bill into law on July 16 that was introduced by State Senator Eric Adams (formerly a police officer for 22 years) and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, Governor Paterson was bullied by Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to veto the legislation.
The new law prohibits the NYPD from continuing to include—in a bottomless computer database—personal information (names and addresses, etc.) of New Yorkers, nearly 80 percent of the total being blacks or Latinos, who are stopped, questioned, and frisked by police.
Since 2004, there have been nearly three million (that is not a typo) of these police stops of people who look “suspicious,” are maybe “furtive,” or who go into a public housing project without a key (in New York City, not Tehran).
The fact that nearly 90 percent of all those stopped are indeed actually innocent—having neither been arrested nor handed a summons—is immaterial, say Kelly and Bloomberg. You see, they say that some of those who appear to be innocent may well eventually turn out to be persons of actual criminal interest. The database will tell the NYPD where to find them.
Before David Paterson showed—not for the first time, but not often enough—that he has a spine, our agitated Police Commissioner said of the proposed law: “It makes no sense!” (The New York Times, July 3).
Forgive me for being personal, Commissioner Kelly, but try role reversal. If you were black or Latino, in some other job, the odds are considerable that as you walked our streets, you would be among the hordes who were suddenly and inexplicably stopped. And in this residentially segregated city, you would probably live in one of these neighborhoods of color where the very great majority of stop-and-frisks occur.
In Martin Luther King’s time, Bull Connor’s police in Alabama used fire hoses, clubs, dogs, and fists on blacks. Ray Kelly’s cops are not of that brutal ilk, though they’ll sometimes slam a reluctant person being questioned against a wall or onto the ground. But many of this city’s blacks and Latinos, young and old, have come to feel like illegal immigrants on the streets of Phoenix.
And if you, a black citizen, had not been busted or handed a summons by the cops when stopped, your innocence would be tentative. Before Governor Paterson acted, you, Mr. Kelly, would be on a computer list of suspects.
Even now, with this law signed by the Governor, New Yorkers can be stopped again and again. What this law does not end—and why there will continue to be court action by the NYCLU and more bills in the legislature—was explained by the NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman (Daily News, July 4): “In many communities [of color], residents are at risk of being stopped and questioned by police officers every time they step outside. Each trip to work, the subway or the store can result in an unpleasant encounter with law enforcement for no good reason.”
The New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, who has been tenaciously on this shame-of-New-York story, puts the continual risk more intimately: “People are made to feel low, intimidated, worthless, helpless. They dread the very sight of the police” (July 6). That includes kids of color too, Commissioner Kelly.
Sir, does it make sense to continue treating these New Yorkers as second-class citizens, or not citizens at all?
I don’t know if Chancellor Joel Klein requires our public schools to teach the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment. The latter has been called “the second American Revolution” by some constitutionalists because it declares, without reservation, that neither the federal government—nor any state—shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg, your stop-and-frisk approach trashes the Fourteenth Amendment. So while Governor Paterson merits our cheers for not being at all intimidated by you, a lot more has to be done to bring the Constitution back into New York City.
A co-sponsor of the bill, Assemblyman Jeffries, reminded all of us (The New York Times, July 16) that the signing of the bill was “the beginning point, not the end point, of a larger evaluation of the effectives and legitimacy” of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk electronic dragnet.
Since there will continue to be stops, questions, frisks—and some arrests—I would be grateful, Commissioner Kelly, for your reaction to this tiny but very inflammatory story buried at the very bottom of page 14 in the July 10 Daily News, “Cuffed Brooklyn Woman Hit Back at Cops.”
The story describes that, in a lawsuit filed in Brooklyn Federal Court, two Brooklyn women, Taneisha Chapman and Markeena Williams, “claim they were wrongfully arrested by the NYPD after following the advice of a flyer (by the American Civil Liberties Union) entitled: ‘What should you do if stopped by the police?’ ”
When stopped by cops last August outside the Marcy Houses and asked to produce identification, they showed the flyer (commendably issued by the office of Assemblyman Nick Perry, Democrat, East Flatbush) that says—and James Madison would have fully approved—“It’s not a crime to refuse to answer questions. You can’t be arrested for merely refusing to identify yourself on the street.”
Daily News reporter John Marzulli wrote: “The cops were apparently in no mood for a legal debate and hauled off both women to Brooklyn Central Booking. The unspecified criminal charges were later dismissed, according to the suit.”
In a July 3 letter to The New York Times, Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and New York City prosecutor (also a lecturer on law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice), writes: “For too many minority New Yorkers, the sight of a passing police car brings a sense of dread and angst, the terrible feeling that they do not yet enjoy the full liberties the Constitution promises. . . . It ignores, too, the fact that many street cops bristle at the constant pressure that coarsens a profession that is overwhelmingly rooted in service.”
How did we the people of New York City allow this long-term disgrace to continue?
I hope the next governor, very likely Andrew Cuomo, will not only publicly commend his predecessor but also continue to insist on “equal protection of the laws” in this city and throughout the state, including the NYPD stop-and-frisks.
As for Michael Bloomberg (still envisioning himself in the Oval Office) and Ray Kelly (thinking of succeeding Bloomberg), their albatross is this contempt of due process that, as Governor Paterson said, “might have worked in the Soviet Union.”
My first reaction when Ray Kelly appeared to cave after Paterson signed the bill was: Why didn’t he wait and go to contest the new law? But it quickly became clear that the NYPD will remain an albatross to Kelly, Bloomberg, and the Constitution. The new rule is that the stop-and-frisk dragnet continues, but cops will record the personal information (names, addresses, Social Security Numbers) of those stopped on paper (the UF-250 forms). Those forms will go into a precinct file, but not the NYPD computer system.
And how do we know how the paper files in the precincts will be used? There are other constitutional questions Kelly and Bloomberg are dancing past. The NYCLU is watching closely. I am, too.