A Wall Street Journal editorial scolds communities of color for protesting New York City police "stop-and-frisk" tactics, failing to mention that the police are changing this policy in response to successful challenges to its constitutionality. The WSJ also incorrectly claimed these warrantless street detentions have "a track record of saving lives and making ghettos safer" and falsely equated constitutional gun violence prevention strategies with unconstitutional search and seizure violations.
In the past decade, despite evidence of its inefficacy, the NYPD has dramatically increased stop-and-frisk, which overwhelmingly targets young men of color. Support for this police tactic is not strong, receiving the most significant opposition in the communities of color where it is most prevalent. Recent lawsuits alleging this police practice is not only impermissibly racially discriminatory, but also a systematic violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures, are succeeding.
Nevertheless, the WSJ argued that black and Hispanic New Yorkers should be "thankful" that the police are targeting them for pat-downs without reasonable suspicion of illegal activity. From the editorial:
Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly credit "stop and frisk" police tactics with the drop in homicides, and rightly so, but it's worth noting that Gotham has a slew of Democrats running to succeed Mr. Bloomberg next year and promising to repeal "stop and frisk" if they're elected. The left claims to care so deeply about the welfare of minorities and the poor, yet they oppose policies that have a track record of saving lives and making ghettos safer for the mostly law-abiding people who live in them.
By the way, many of these same liberal opponents of "stop and frisk" support stricter gun control laws. But as commentator David Frum recently asked, how can you support gun control and oppose "stop-and-frisk"?
The WSJ does not cite evidence for its claim that the "drop in homicides" is due to the past decade's stop-and-frisk policing. In fact, the evidence does not support this much-repeated right-wing talking point. In addition to the NYPD admission that "nearly nine times out of ten" the individuals detained under the policy are innocent and that police discover "guns in only about one of every 666 stops--or 0.15 percent," claims that stop-and-frisk is responsible for the drop in homicide are spurious. As explained by The New York Times:
[Proponents of stop-and-frisk] applaud the mayor for inventing "a new statistic": 5,600 "fewer murders in the past decade" because of stop-and-frisk.
The mayor's math is certainly inventive, as well as deeply ahistoric. He takes the high point for homicides, which hovered around 2,200 in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Then he points to the number of homicides each year since he took office in 2002, which has hovered near 500, and claims 5,600 lives saved.
Where to begin?
The early 1990s represented a high-water mark for urban bloodshed. Boston, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Richmond, Washington: all became caldrons of violence.
The wave of homicides subsided most substantially in New York, but violence slid in most cities. Smart policing helped a lot. So did the waning of the crack epidemic, the decline of drug turf wars, and tens of thousands of citizens who refused to stay locked in their homes.
New York experienced its sharpest drop before 2002, the year Mr. Bloomberg took office. Since then, homicides have fallen about 11 percent, while stop-and-frisks increased sevenfold.
The NYPD has already begun changing its stop-and-frisk policy in recognition of the increasingly successful challenges to its constitutionality. Although brief police detentions of individuals on the street are not automatically unconstitutional, in certifying a class action lawsuit against the NYPD's specific stop-and-frisk practices, a federal court warned the NYPD last summer that its use of the practice appeared to go far beyond what was constitutionally reasonable. Furthermore, on the same day the editorial page of the WSJ published support for stop-and-frisk, a federal court struck down part of it as unconstitutional, a major news story the WSJ covered in its straight news section:
In the first judicial rebuke of the city's stop-and-frisk practice, a federal judge ordered the New York Police Department to end what the ruling described as "unlawful trespass stops" outside some private buildings in the Bronx.
In her harshly worded ruling, the judge wrote that "while it may be difficult to say where, precisely, to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters, such a line exists, and the NYPD has systematically crossed it."
Finally, the WSJ recycled journalist David Frum's question, "How can you support gun control and oppose stop-and-frisk?"
The answer is simple. First, even if stop-and-frisk was an effective gun violence prevention measure, as right-wing media erroneously claim, it does not follow that it is a necessary tool to enforce gun laws. Second, as conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia concluded, "gun control" is constitutional. According to yesterday's federal district court ruling, NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy is not.