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Tyranny in NYC: The NYPD's Wasteful, Ineffective, Illegal, and Unjust Targeting of Blacks and Latinos

Mayor Bloomberg's critics are silent as the NYPD breaks the law to attack blacks and Latinos with harmful, low-level arrests for marijuana.

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In another clear violation of their rights, the police conduct an aggressive search without asking permission and without any evident indication that the persons detained are carrying a weapon or contraband. The police reach into people’s pockets and crotch areas and/or tell them to remove their shoes. The police then confiscate the hidden marijuana and later claim to the court that the substance was open to public view, the condition necessary to charging the individual with a misdemeanor -- under state law, simple possession only rises to the level of a violation, which is not by legal standards even considered a crime.

These police actions broach provisions of our nation’s constitution and of New York State law. But most victims choose not to contest these illegal practices -- it would usually take 8 to 10 separate appearances at court to fight the charges. They usually accept a plea to a lesser offense, a violation instead of a misdemeanor, and thereby achieve their freedom until the next time the police stop and frisk them on the street.


A particularly perverse category of injustice inflicted by aggressive arrest-driven policing takes the form of the collateral consequences arising from contact with the criminal justice system and the criminal record that ensues. The areas where bad consequences can, and often do, result from convictions for a misdemeanor or even a violation include housing, education, immigration, employment, driving, and public assistance.

Regarding immigration, for example, one misdemeanor conviction can lead to deportation. Two convictions for offenses reflecting “moral turpitude” can have a similar outcome; such offenses include shop lifting or turnstile jumping, hardly the kinds of dangerous or socially disruptive acts that should cause a person to be sent out of perhaps the only country that he or she has known to a foreign nation where the deportee has no remaining family or friends.

Criminal justice contact can also limit an individual’s job prospects, especially in New York where over 100 professions, ranging from barber to attorney, require licenses obtained from state authorities. Studies have shown that arrests alone can be an obstacle or even a bar to employment. New York City’s school system, for instance, mandates that an employee report any arrest, even for a violation, and will frequently suspend or reassign a teacher while a case is pending.

Even where arrests do not legally or technically prohibit employment, employers will always prefer job candidates who have had no contact with the criminal justice system. The damage done in depriving people of jobs extends, of course, to the families who will suffer undue hardship when their breadwinners cannot find gainful employment

Racial Bias

  • Many recently gathered statistics point to the undeniable conclusion that New York City’s aggressive arrest-driven policing is marked by stark racial bias. In 2009, the city’s officers stopped and frisked over 576,000 individuals -- blacks and Latinos represent 84 percent of the people so treated, although the two ethnic groups make up only 53 percent of the city’s total population.
  • In 2009, the city’s officers stopped and frisked over 576,000 individuals -- blacks and Latinos represent 84 percent of the people so treated, although the two ethnic groups make up only 53 percent of the city’s total population.
  • Police data also show that young people were stopped at an average of once every 90 minutes in high-poverty, majority black and Latino neighborhoods like East New York and Brownsville, Brooklyn; whiter, wealthier areas averaged one stop every 18 hours.
  • Individuals end up detained on Rikers Island or the city’s juvenile facilities as a direct result of whom the New York City Police Department arrests. Over 90 percent of the city’s adult detention population is black or Latino, as is about 95 percent of the juveniles locked up.
  • In recent years, the top ten precincts for marijuana arrests in New York City averaged 2,150 marijuana arrests for every 100,000 residents; the populations in those precincts are 90 percent or more nonwhite. The 10 precincts with the lowest rates of marijuana arrests averaged 67 out of 100,000 residents, and are over 80 percent white. This, again, despite the fact that most pot users are white. Experience tells us that the general public, and especially the people that live in disadvantaged inner city communities, know this fundamental sorry truth about local policing: white people can possess marijuana with virtual impunity; if you are a person of color, however, then you must regularly look over your shoulder and watch out for the long harsh arm of the law.

Other strong evidence that aggressive arrest-driven policing has a racist impact comes from representatives of the non-profit prison reform organization, the Correctional Association of New York, which monitors conditions in the city’s court pens that hold recently arrested people just before they are arraigned, or officially charged with an offense, by a sitting judge. The organization’s officials report that on visits to the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Bronx pens, they usually see hundreds of detainees who were arrested the day or night before and there will only be one or two white faces in the midst of cell after cell of black and brown people. Out of 250 people arrested in Manhattan say on a Wednesday, conditions monitors will note that on the following Thursday they will see 248 or 250 people of color confined in those cells. Such a racial disparity -- not merely disproportionate but virtually exclusive -- is not an accident. It is a function of the policies and practices of the New York City Police Department.

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