Since 2004, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has stopped and interrogated people nearly 3 million times, more than 80 percent were black or Latino. The names and addresses of those stopped have been entered into the department’s database, regardless of whether the person had done anything wrong. Last year, NYPD officers stopped and questioned or frisked more than 575,000 people, the most ever. Nearly nine out of 10 of those stopped and questioned by police last year were neither arrested nor issued a summons.
The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court for New York County on behalf of what may be more than 100,000 New Yorkers whose personal information is being kept in the NYPD database even though state laws require that all police records of their stop-and-frisk encounters be sealed and not be available to any public or private agency. The lead plaintiffs are two New York City residents who have been stopped and frisked by police officers, issued summonses, and subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.
The lawsuit asks, among other things, for an injunction requiring the NYPD to seal all records, including personal information in the stop-and-frisk database, of people who were stopped and frisked, were arrested or issued a summons, and whose cases ended either in dismissal or only the payment of a fine for a noncriminal violation. NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the City of New York and several unnamed police officers are listed as defendants. Here’s a short video clip (2:43), produced by the NYCLU, that gives some more background:
In the second chapter of her book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander offers a detailed analysis of how “stop-and-frisk” practices, like the one in place in New York City, have taken precedent over the constitutionally protected right against unlawful search and seizure (Fourth Amendment). Alexander writes that these sorts of practices are part of the apparatus creating a new caste system, a caste system of black and brown people trapped in permanent, second-class status.
While the NYCLU’s lawsuit, even if successful, will not entirely dismantle ‘the new Jim Crow,’ it is a step in the right direction.