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Donald Trump Is Wrong About Stop-and-Frisk

Stop-and-frisk has not been going “incredibly well” in New York City, as Trump says—or in any other city.

David Goldman/AP

When it comes to campaign rhetoric designed to inflame African Americans, using terms like “black-on-black crime” and “stop-and-frisk” in the same breath will rarely disappoint. And Donald Trump did just that during a town hall talk Wednesday night hosted by Sean Hannity of Fox News:

There seem to be few morsels of truth that Trump ever finds savory. And so it should surprise no one that he’s claiming that the “stop-and-frisk” approach to policing has “worked incredibly well” in New York City. This method enabled rampant racial profiling by the New York Police Department, which former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani has roundly encouraged. In 2013, a federal judge declared the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk activities unconstitutional. And yet Trump endorsed this unlawful practice during a visit to Pittsburgh Thursday—and said it should be used nationwide.

As the New York Daily News editorial board recently admitted, stop-and-frisk police practices in New York City have been spectacularly bootless. “Not only did crime fail to rise,” since the New York City Police Department began scaling back stop-and-frisk procedures, reads the August 8 editorial, “New York hit record lows.”

This is the opposite of what Trump has asserted. In fact, the only people stop-and-frisk has worked incredibly well for are those interested in criminalizing black and Latino New Yorkers. As the New York Civil Liberties Union notes in its stop-and-frisk fact sheet:

[F]rom 2002 to 2011, black and Latino residents made up close to 90 percent of people stopped, and about 88 percent of stops—more than 3.8 million – were of innocent New Yorkers. Even in neighborhoods that are predominantly white, black and Latino New Yorkers face the disproportionate brunt. For example, in 2011, Black and Latino New Yorkers made up 24 percent of the population in Park Slope, but 79 percent of stops.  

The NYCLU’s 2013 stop-and-frisk report notes that this practice smacked of racial discrimination, given that police were more likely to find guns when searching white New Yorkers:

Of blacks and Latinos who were stopped in 2013, 60.1 percent were frisked, while 46.7 percent of whites who were stopped were frisked. Yet, a weapon was found in only 2.9 percent of blacks and Latinos frisked, as compared to a weapon being found in 5.6 percent of whites frisked. These figures strongly indicate that race is a factor in officer decisions to frisk a person.

(New York Civil Liberties Union)

Still, Trump would like to take this practice nationwide. As The Atlantic’s David Graham points out, stop-and-frisk is already in effect in other cities. But it’s not working incredibly well outside of New York, either. The U.S. Justice Department recently found racial discrepancies similar to NYPD’s among the Baltimore Police Department in how it applied stop-and-frisk:

BPD disproportionately searches African Americans during stops. BPD searched African Americans more frequently during pedestrian and vehicle stops, even though searches of African Americans were less likely to discover contraband. Indeed, BPD officers found contraband twice as often when searching white individuals compared to African Americans during vehicle stops and 50 percent more often during pedestrian stops.

Justice Department officials found more of the same behavior in their investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, as well.

Ferguson’s law enforcement practices overwhelmingly impact African Americans. Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014 shows that African Americans account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67% of Ferguson’s population. African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops even after controlling for non-race based variables such as the reason the vehicle stop was initiated, but are found in possession of contraband 26% less often than white drivers, suggesting officers are impermissibly considering race as a factor when determining whether to search. ...

FPD appears to bring certain offenses almost exclusively against African Americans. For example, from 2011 to 2013, African Americans accounted for 95% of Manner of Walking in Roadway charges, and 94% of all Failure to Comply charges. Notably, with  respect to speeding charges brought by FPD, the evidence shows not only that African Americans are represented at disproportionately high rates overall, but also that the disparate
impact of FPD’s enforcement practices on African Americans is 48% larger when citations are issued not on the basis of radar or laser, but by some other method, such as the officer’s own visual assessment.

It’s officers’ visual assessments that make stop-and-frisk practices burdensome on black lives, considering the implicit and explicit racial biases that many police officers carry. These biases come into play even when there is not a stop-and-frisk situation: Consider that Terence Crutcher was killed by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, largely because he looked like a “big, bad dude” to them.

The kind of racial profiling that inherently comes with stop-and-frisk has not been an “incredibly” good response to crime, as Trump claims, whether the crime is intra-racial or not. If anything, it’s made things worse. Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, pointed this out during her remarks at the “Symposium on the Criminalization of Race and Poverty,” held by the Southern Center for Human Rights on September 20 in Atlanta. Said Gupta:

“Unconstitutional policing severely undermines community trust. Blanket assumptions and stereotypes about certain neighborhoods and certain communities can lead residents to see the justice system as illegitimate and authorities as corrupt. Those perceptions can drive resentment. And resentment can prevent the type of effective policing needed to keep communities and officers safe.”

All of which is to say that not only is Trump a liar, but his lies fuel policies that have been destructive to communities of color and police departments alike. And if he’s absolutely wedded to stop-and-frisk, the place to target is not “the black community” or cities, but rather the white suburbs. Those areas have the highest rates of drug use when it comes to opiates and heroin—plenty enough for police to search for there. But those ‘burbs are where Trump’s strongest supporters live, so he wouldn’t dare.

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