Radio station WNYC made a chart tracking 10 years of stop and frisk as part of its series, "New York Remade: The Bloomberg Years." The chart shows how stop and frisk grew from 97,296 stops in 2002 to 685,724 in 2011--the year stop and frisk peaked.
WNYC's chart and accompanying story raises an interesting question: Would Stop and Frisk be the political hot topic it is today if the number of stops in a given year had peaked at 350,000 or 400,000? WNYC's story suggests it wouldn't be.
2011 was not only a banner year for stops, it helped the anti-stop and frisk movement capture the attention of the media. Robert Gangi of the Police Reform Organizing Project told WNYC that when he first talked about making stop and frisk a political issue, people looked at him as if he had "announced plans to put on a cape and go up on the building and try to fly."
Then the numbers for 2011 came out:
But after Bloomberg was elected to a third term, that perception changed. New data was released showing that the police made 685, 724 stops in 2011— a new, all-time high. “There had been more young black men stopped than there were young black men in the entire city population," said Chris Dunn. In close to 90 percent of the stops, police found no wrongdoing.
At the silent march against stop and frisk that June 2012, several thousand demonstrators lined Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Three mayoral candidates were among them: Christine Quinn, William Thompson and Bill de Blasio. It was a signal that opposition was becoming politically potent.
And yet, while 2011 was indeed a big year, it wasn't a dramatic increase over 2010, during which the NYPD made 601,285 stops. The biggest year-to-year increase dates back to 2003-2004, when the number of stops jumped from 160,851 to 313,523. Who was criticizing New York's stop and frisk policy all the way back then? According to a dive through Google's news archives, almost no one.
In the last two years stop and frisk has received so much attention (and so much of it negative), that Baltimore has decided it won't even use the phrase anymore. In an alternative timeline where stop and frisk numbers peaked in 2010--or even a few years earlier--how much longer would it have taken for the arc of the moral universe to bend toward justice?
Top image: Where were all these white people in 2004? (Keith Bedford/Reuters)