Commentary Magazine


Liberal Activists’ Case Against the NYPD Is Falling Apart

In August, after the New York Times published a story accusing the New York Police Department of overtly racist policing, the NYPD responded by noting that: “During the first 10 years of the Bloomberg Administration there were 5,430 murders compared to 11,058 in the 10 years prior, a reduction of 51% or 5,628 lives saved. If history is a guide, the vast majority of those lives saved were young men of color.”

That continued a trend that began during the previous decade, when Rudy Giuliani was mayor. The drop in crime resulted in, for example, a 90-percent reduction in murders in one of Manhattan’s largely Hispanic neighborhoods. Minority communities in New York have been the beneficiaries of a policing revolution that put the city back on its feet in dramatic fashion. But to liberal activists and their judicial allies, the dignity of life is undercut by the supposed indignities inflicted upon the neighborhoods where police use the effective “stop and frisk” tactic.

They have sued to stop the practice, arguing police make their stops based on race. Judge Shira Scheindlin gave the case a boost when she ruled that the plaintiffs have standing to not just sue the city but to challenge the use of the police tactic at all. Though the decision to allow the case to proceed to trial was a blow against efforts to protect minorities, the trial itself has at least had the benefit of weakening the case against the NYPD–as well as Scheindlin’s own decision to approve the plaintiffs’ standing.

In recent weeks, the courtroom has played host to some extraordinary scenes. In Scheindlin’s decision approving the plaintiffs’ standing, she refers to the NYPD’s own paperwork, which contains the records and recollections of the stops. The records supposedly show the police to have made unnecessary stops in minority neighborhoods. But Scheindlin began to sense, correctly, that it’s quite difficult to fully understand a police stop by its record form. As the New York Daily News notes in an editorial slamming the shoddy judicial activism of the court in letting the case go through, Scheindlin asked former Chief of Department Joseph Esposito the following question: “You really don’t know much about the stop just by looking at the form, do you?”

The Daily News editorial continued:

“Correct,” he answered, as it became crystal clear that Scheindlin had given the go-ahead to a case built on evidence that, by her own statement, is wholly unreliable. Case dismissed, Your Honor.

Perhaps even more remarkable than this exchange was a story buried in the local section of yesterday’s New York Times, the paper that has led the spurious and scandalously dangerous campaign against the NYPD. The headline is “Some Testimony on Police Tactic Undercuts Bias Claim,” and the piece delivers the goods. It opens with this:

One man was stopped and frisked because of his expensive red leather jacket — similar to one that a murder suspect was wearing in a wanted poster. Another man was stopped after a woman complained to the police that he was following her. Still another was stopped by officers who had watched him jostle the door of a home, trying to get in.

Recruited by civil rights lawyers, these men and others have testified about their encounters with the police in a federal trial weighing whether the soaring number of stop-and-frisk encounters has resulted in widespread constitutional violations for hundreds of thousands of black and Hispanic men. They were chosen to give voice to the toll that the police’s use of the tactic has inflicted on an entire demographic, their lawyers say.

But over the trial’s first month, some of these men’s accounts seemed to veer away from the straightforward narrative of racial profiling — and may have actually undermined the plaintiffs’ efforts to demonstrate that the police routinely disregard the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable police detentions.

In other words, the police are doing their jobs. Intervening in a possible break-in; responding to a woman’s call that she was in danger; stopping a man wearing the same distinctive clothing as a man pictured in a wanted poster–is this not a clear description of responsible policing? Indeed it is. And yet the attorneys who put these witnesses on the stand thought they were going to describe racial profiling, because the case against the NYPD is based not on facts but on delusional ideological prejudice against the police.

The Times article’s tone is one of surprise. Do the facts of the case comport with the paper’s editorial outlook? Not at all. Will the editors adjust their opinion of the NYPD now that they have been exposed to the truth? That’s anybody’s guess, but it’s an improvement, at the very least, that they are reporting it.

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