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Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who is expected to run for mayor, pushed forward his campaign against the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy with a press event this afternoon featuring Martin Luther King III.
But as he continues his public appearances on the matter, Stringer seems to face the tricky task of criticizing the current practice of police stops without coming down too hard on the leader behind the policy, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly — who incidentally could end up running for mayor himself.
Stringer, likely looking to appeal to minority and outer borough voters, appears committed to loudly opposing stop-and-frisk in its current form. Stop-and-frisk disproportionately targets communities of color and does very little to actually prevent crime (only nine percent of stops typically result in arrests), critics say.
And Stringer, who praised Kelly when he asked him about rumors of his mayoral bid, has repeatedly said that everyone should be concerned with stop-and-frisk, even people that look like him.
At the same time, though, it seems that Stringer tries to avoid using confrontational language when referring to Kelly, and today, he repeatedly found opportunities to praise the police commissioner and the NYPD’s efforts at reducing crime.
This created an interesting dynamic at the event where some speakers harshly attacked Mayor Mike Bloomberg (who happened to walk by the press conference on the steps of City Hall) and Kelly for letting stop-and-frisk continue while others chose to focus on the policy itself and possible alternatives.
“We are targeting people based on race and based on a certain profile, that quite frankly is not constitutional and creating a divide in this city,” Stringer said. “I’m here today, because I believe this is not just an issue for people of color, black and Latino people. This is an issue for the entire city. We cannot allow unconstitutional stop-and-frisk to continue, especially when it’s having a negative impact throughout our city.”
He continued, “The fact that people of all walks of life are now saying to the police commissioner — who we all respect — amend this policy, change this policy, if you’re going to stop individuals in the city, stop everybody. Make these stops constitutional. Do not simply allow police officers to waste precious resources stopping people because they happen to be African American and Latino.”
Stringer said that the city should be proud of its successful crime reduction over the last 20 years, but said that the drop has nothing to do with stop-and-frisk, but should be credited to smart policies like CompStat, a measure that keeps close records of crime statistics at the precinct level.
Martin Luther King III also chose not to criticize Bloomberg and Kelly, saying, “Is it right to initiate a stop-and-frisk policy that appears to be targeting a few segments of the population? And I think this dialogue needs to occur, because I’m sure this is not to criticize anyone, certainly not the mayor or the police commissioner, but to continue to dialogue to get a responsible way of addressing the issue of crime on New York streets.”
King said the policy is part of a larger culture of violence that officials need to confront.
Kelly and the mayor have repeatedly defended the policy, saying that is an effective crime-stopping tool and that there aren’t promising alternatives. At the same time, stop-and-frisk is an issue that some advocacy groups are trying to push to the forefront of the upcoming mayoral elections.
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has been very outspoken about the policy, targeted Kelly in her comments today, saying, “This…[is] a culture within the NYPD, which needs to change from the top down. And I ask Commissioner Kelly to come home, because many years ago, he was a strong proponent of community policing and denounced stop-and-frisk…We need that Ray Kelly back, because what we’re asking for is more on the ground community-based policing.”
Mark-Viverito and other speakers reiterated the common criticism that stop-and-frisk actually makes neighborhoods less safe because exacerbated police-community relations makes it difficult for officers to investigate crimes and arrest actual criminals. Councilman Daniel Dromm said some of his Jackson Heights constituents are afraid to go to the police when they are in trouble. Councilman Brad Lander proposed the city implement an “inspector general” within the police department that could provide more meaningful oversight of this kind of policy.
Some of the harshest criticisms came from Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has campaigned against stop-and-frisk.
“This is the civil rights issue of our city,” she said. “The mayor prides himself on government by the numbers. Where’s the CompStat for the efficiency or inefficiency of stop-and-frisk under Commissioner Kelly?”
When asked what the alternatives are to stop-and-frisk, Stringer referred to programs in Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles that look at different ways to reduce gun violence.
“One thing that’s clear, is we need the mayor and the police commissioner — people who we respect a great deal on these issues — to have an open mind and allow a discussion for this to happen,” Stringer added, calling for a City Council hearing or a town hall meeting.
The Voice asked the speakers if they’ve ever had any indication that Bloomberg or Kelly would be interested in considering alternatives. They paused briefly unsure of who should answer, and then Lieberman of the NYCLU stepped up and offered a long criticism of the NYPD’s standard defense (which didn’t exactly answer our question). She said, “The commissioner is responsible for policing our streets. He is responsible for figuring out how to do that in a way that respects human dignity and human rights…For him to throw that back at any of us is really unacceptable.”
The Voice followed up with Stringer after the conference asking if he’s ever had any indication that the mayor might be open to his suggestions, but he told us he doesn’t usually have conversations with the police commissioner or the mayor on the topic.
He mentioned an op-ed he published today in the Nation that covers some alternatives, including community-oriented reforms, ceasefire initiatives where those involved in gun violence meet with law enforcement and community leaders, and gun buy-back programs.
“I would hope they would read the Nation today,” Stringer said.