This Father’s Day, June 17th, the Children’s Defense Fund-New York and I will be joining George Gresham, President of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and the Children’s Defense Fund national board member, Ben Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP, Rev. Al Sharpton, Founder and President of the National Action Network, other advocates, elected officials, union leaders, and citizens to mount a silent march down Fifth Avenue to protest the New York City Police Department’s harsh stop and frisk policy. George Gresham said: “Stop and frisk poses a real danger to our children and communities. The NYPD’s stop and frisk policy has led to rampant racial profiling and the people of New York City must not stand for it. For the safety of all our children, we must speak out against this unjust policy. This is an issue for all people of color and all people of conscience.”
The explosion in the numbers of people being stopped and frisked by New York City police officers over the last decade is a result of the “zero tolerance” policing begun in the city in the 1990s which cracked down on minor crimes on the premise that this would help prevent larger crimes. Crime rates did fall, but they also fell during the same period in many other American cities that weren’t adopting the same police tactics–leaving many experts doubting whether zero tolerance policies could take much of the credit. However, many do give the stop and frisk policies credit for an epidemic of unlawful police searches in New York City that have violated the Fourth Amendment rights of hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens, primarily Black and Latino men. In May a lawsuit accusing the NYPD of using race as the basis for stop and frisk searches was granted class-action status.
As the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) explains, “The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices raise serious concerns over racial profiling, illegal stops and privacy rights. The Department’s own reports on its stop-and-frisk activity confirm what many people in communities of color across the city have long known . . . An analysis by the NYCLU revealed that more than 4 million innocent New Yorkers were subjected to police stops and street interrogations from 2004 through 2011, and that black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics. Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union points out that one of the justifications behind the rise in street interrogations is to get guns off the street–a laudable goal. But no gun was retrieved in 99.9 percent of stops. While Black and Latino young men ages 14-24 make up only 4.7 percent of the city’s population, they made up 41.6 percent of the stops by police in 2011. The number of stops of young Black men actually exceeded the total number of young Black men in the entire city population. Not only are Black and Latino New Yorkers much more likely to be frisked by the police than Whites, they are also less likely than Whites to be found with a weapon and far more likely to have police force used against them.
The New York Civil Liberties Union also points out that the NYPD is continuing to engage in this pattern and practice of targeting Blacks and Latinos. Of the 203,500 New Yorkers stopped in the first three months of 2012, 108,097 were Black (54 percent) and 69,043 were Latino (33 percent). And 181,457 of the people stopped–89 percent–were found to be totally innocent.
These kinds of policies are making the streets more scary for our children and young people. They represent the kind of racial profiling and mistrust that is fueling the national Cradle to Prison PipelineTM crisis that leaves a Black boy born in 2001 with a one in three chance of going to prison in his lifetime and a Latino boy with a one in six chance of the same fate. It’s time to raise our collective voices and say enough is enough. The silent Father’s Day March will be a chance for people of all backgrounds to come, stand and walk silently down New York’s Fifth Avenue together to convey to New York City leaders that it is time to stop these unlawful searches and to stop treating hundreds of thousands of our young people of color like criminals when they have done nothing wrong. Please join us.
If you want to learn more about how policies like these across our nation are contributing to the nation’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline and mass incarceration crises and how you can take action in your community if you share these concerns, join me at CDF’s national conference in Cincinnati, Ohio July 22-25 and come to the Juvenile Justice and Mass Incarceration Plenary Sessions and Workshops. Sessions like “Ending the New Apartheid: The Cradle to Prison Pipeline and Mass Incarceration” and “Dismantling the Cradle to Prison Pipeline: Successful State and Community Efforts” will help us all see and understand how we can stop it and racial profiling and put our children into a pipeline to college and productive work rather than jail.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to staging.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.