Dilemma: (noun) [dih-lem-uh] a situation requiring a choice between two equally undesirable outcomes
The federal class action lawsuit, Flovd, et al vs The City of New York, et al, is giving Mayor Michael Bloomberg a major headache, or at least it should. That’s due to good organizing on the part of Communities United for Police Reform, and the brilliant legal minds at the Center for Constitutional Rights. As far as I’m concerned, those groups are heroes, not just of New York, but of every other community in the country plagued by racial profiling and stop and frisk harassment by law enforcement.
On the racial profiling/stop and frisk tip, the City of New York created their own problems. In the past decade, the NYPD has conducted about 5 million stops. Yup, that’s 5 million. More than 85 percent of the stops in most years have been of blacks and Latinos. Only about 12 percent have resulted in arrests.
One outcome of all that stopping and frisking is that today, more than half of all black men in New York have had at least one such encounter with the police. So much for Officer Friendly.
If they are following the letter of the law, NYPD officers had “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity in all of these cases. But as the District Court Judge, Shira Sheindlin said in court,
“You reasonably suspect something and you’re wrong 90 percent of the time…That is a lot of misjudgment of suspicion..”
Actually, that’s an 88 percent error rate.
Imagine you work at MacDonald’s and you burn burgers 88% of the time. Or you work in a blood bank and you mislabel blood types 88 times out of one-hundred. Do you imagine yourself keeping that job? Yet, the NYPD has done little to correct this problem, nor demonstrated much concern about the impact of all those mistaken stops on the attitudes of black and brown people regarding law enforcement — as in, that there is a broad based perception in many communities of color that in order to protect and serve some people, the police view other people as the enemy, and the filter by which these judgments are made is race. That looks to me like a downward spiral of negative outcomes headed in the general direction of crisis.
There’s no documentation of overt racism, at least not to my knowledge, and demonstrating overt racial animus is, unfortunately, the federal standard that the City appears to be taking refuge behind. But, regardless, the pattern of arrests kind of make race pop out at you, something Judge Sheindlin seems to have noticed. In response, the City’s attorney Heidi Grossman warned, “You’re speculating what the reason is.” And then according to a New York Times story, Grossman posited a possible alternative cause. She suggested that all those improper stops could just as easily have been mistakes, resulting either from what we are left to deduce is widespread procedural incompetence within the NYPD, or an equally widespread problem of NYPD officers misunderstanding the law. Not, of course, of how these efforts are targeted. That would be an admission of profiling.
Now that’s a serious stuck-between-a-rock-and-a hard-place dilemma to find yourself in if you’re Mayor Bloomberg. Either the NYPD considers race an indicator of criminality (or lack thereof as expressed in the disproportionately low numbers of stops of East Asians and whites), or the NYPD is just incompetent. So incompetent, in fact, that over ten years they tried 5 million times to get something right, and only succeeded about 12 percent of the time, and a bunch of those times, all they found was some marijuana. If that’s what they were after, they would probably lower their error rate by moving their operation to a local university campus on a Saturday night.