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Sen. Eric Adams: NYPD Commissioner Told Me Cops Use Stop-and-Frisk to Instill Fear in Youths of Color

Adams said policing must move away from quotas and terrorizing young people, and toward preventing harm.
 
 
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On Monday, New York State Senator Eric Adams testified in federal court that NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly told him the policing tactic stop-and-frisk is used to instill fear in young men of color.

“[NYPD Commissioner Kelly] stated that he targeted and focused on that group because he wanted to instill fear in them that every time that they left their homes they could be stopped by police," Adams testified. Over the past decade, the NYPD has stopped upward of 5 million people, nearly 90% of whom are black or Latino.

Kelly allegedly made the remark at a July 2010 meeting with elected officials including State Sen. Marty Golden (R-Brooklyn), former Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), and former Democratic Governor of New York David Paterson, who was deciding whether to sign a bill to block the NYPD from compiling a database of individuals stopped by the police. Adams told Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin that, at the meeting, he expressed concern that blacks and Hispanics were “disproportionately” stopped, questioned and frisked by police, prompting the Commissioner to defend the tactic as crucial to preventing violence -- by making its targets fearful of police interactions. 

“I told him that I believe it was illegal and that that was not what stop-and-frisk was supposed to be used for,” he testified, adding that  Kelly responding by asking, "How else are we going to get rid of guns?"   

Though stop-and-frisk is supposed to be used to uncover illegal guns, less than one percent of stops actually do.

Adams, who co-sponsored the bill Paterson ultimately signed, told reporters that Kelly’s “disheartening” admission was proof that “It was not the people on the ground,” provoking illegal stops but “a policy being blessed from the top down.”

Adams’ testimony was crucial to the class-action lawsuit Floyd v. City of New York, which will ultimately decide whether the city has violated the 4th and 14th amendment rights of New Yorkers by targeting black and Latino youths for suspicionless stops. The plaintiffs in Floyd have relied on the testimony and secret recordings of two NYPD whistleblowers who allege that monthly quotas force officers to break the law to make numbers.

Cops Under Pressure

Adams served 22 years in the NYPD before retiring as captain seven years ago. He stressed that illegal NYPD quotas for stops have an undue burden not just on the communities affected (many of which are his constituents), but police officers who want to do good.

“Cops want to go after bad guys. Cops hate this,” he told reporters, adding that “Cops are so frustrated they’re now wearing wires at roll calls.”

Adams emphasized that stop-and-frisk is “a great tool if it is used correctly,” but testified that “nowhere are you allowed to use the tool to instill fear.”

He noted that the difference between good and bad stops comes down to the law -- reasonable suspicion that a person has or is about to commit a crime.

“The stops where a police officer was responding to a person who was a victim of crime, or a crime pattern in particular community areas" are good stops he said, compared to “Stops where officers are just responding to quotas, which he said “are terrible stops.” He provided as an example an individual “walking down the block or coming from school,” only to be stopped “Because of the way they dress or their skin color."

Adams serves New York’s 20th District, which spans some of the New York City neighborhoods most affected by stop-and-frisk, including the Brooklyn neighborhoods Flatbush, Crown Heights and Brownsville. He said constituents regularly visit his office to ask whether they were stopped legally. Once, he told reporters, a group of seven football players entered his office after they were stopped by police following a game. Two of them started crying, he said, as they complained that officers were “touching their private areas,” -- a violation that has come up in the courtroom already.

“They felt emasculated,” he said, adding that the moment provided him with the realization of “What we are doing to these kids."

“When young people are afraid of gangs, and afraid of the police, they feel trapped. It’s not fair and it’s not right,” he said.

“When we look back on this years from now,” he told reporters, “we’re going to feel really bad as adults that we did this to these children.”

Reining in the NYPD

Adams stressed to reporters that the September 11 World Trade Center attack had a profound effect on policing in the city. “We gave our police department more power," he said, adding that “With power should have come oversight.”

He said adding an Inspector General to watch over the police department could be beneficial because “someone has to be there to say no," providing as an example,“No, you can’t go in a mosque where people are worshipping.” (Last year, a series of reports from the Associated Press revealed that the NYPD was spying on Muslims outside of their jurisdiction, and even hired an informant to snap photographs inside mosques where citizens worshipped.)

Adams also said that involving member of the community in anti-violence strategies could help to keep them safer.

“One of the other tools we could use to deter crime -- one that’s proven successful -- is community based crime-fighting,” he told AlterNet, adding, “Young people want to be a part of making their communities safer.” He lamented that many grassroots groups like Man Up and Save Our Streets were defunded last year.

Adams also said that policing must move away from quotas and toward “preventing harm.”

“As a cop, we want to catch bad guys,” he said, adding “That’s why we wear the shield.”

Nonetheless, Adams told reporters that reforming policing tactics, and stop-and-frisk in particular, is difficult. “The people responsible for enforcing the law are not obeying the law.”

He said Commissioner Kelly is “Out of touch with people in the communities,” and that “Until individuals on Wall Street have to tell stories about their children being stopped [we will not] see a change in this policy.”

 

Kristen Gwynne is an associate editor and drug policy reporter at AlterNet.  Follow her on Twitter: @KristenGwynne