by Wendy Ruderman

“In interviews with 100 people who said they had been stopped by the New York police in neighborhoods where the practice is most common, many said the experience left them feeling intruded upon and humiliated. And even when officers extended niceties, like ‘Have a nice night,’ or called them ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am,’ people said they questioned whether the officer was being genuine.

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“Last year, city police officers stopped nearly 686,000 people, 84 percent of them black or Latino. The vast majority—88 percent of the stops—led to neither an arrest nor a summons, although officers said they had enough reasonable suspicion to conduct a frisk in roughly half of the total stops, according to statistics provided by the New York Police Department and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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“On an evening about a month ago, while walking with friends on Northern Boulevard near 78th Street, in Queens, Louis Morales, 15, and Alex Mejia, 16, found themselves swarmed by plainclothes narcotics officers. They shoved the teenagers’ palms onto an unmarked police car and searched them. Spewing expletives, the officers repeatedly ordered them to ‘shut up,’ the teenagers said.

“One of the officers, Mr. Morales said, warned: ‘Say one word and I’m going to make your parents pick you up at the jail. You guys are a bunch of immigrants.’

“‘Yep, that’s what they said, ‘You guys are immigrants,” Mr. Mejia interjected. ‘We can’t say anything to them. They curse at us. They treat us like we killed somebody.’

“Mr. Morales said he and other neighborhood teenagers had become so bitter that even if they had information about a crime, they would not share it with the police. ‘I’m not going to help them,’ he said. ‘They are not helping me by disrespecting me.'”

The Times is finally giving this issue some good coverage.  I’m glad they made clear that the police need reasonable suspicion to stop and to frisk, but there is no mention of the fact that even if officer’s have reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is armed, this gives them license only to pat down the exterior clothing to check for weapons.  Police making a stop are not allowed to search for anything other than weapons, and are not allowed to go into the stopee’s pockets at all.

The other problem that is probably beyond the scope of most of these articles, but which the police and prosecutors rely heavily on, is the fact that many of the searches are conducted under a pretense of consent:  and I don’t doubt that when four plain clothes officers shove you against a wall that you’ll say “yes” when ask “Mind if we search you?”  Because how are they going to react when you tell them to mind their own business (which is, ostensibly, fully within your rights)?  Some major precedent is probably going to need to change regarding what amounts to coerced consent to tackle this problem.

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