WASHINGTON – New York officials from three levels of government asked the Justice Department on Thursday to consider investigating the city police department's stop-and-frisk program for overwhelmingly targeting minorities.
The delegation of city, state and federal officials also asked in a meeting Thursday that the agency intervene on lawsuits challenging the police tactic and assist them with legislative proposals to counter the program, including withholding some grant funds.
"No one cares about stopping crime more than we do because we live in these neighborhoods," New York City Assemblyman Karim Camara, a Democrat, said in a news conference on the grounds of the Capitol. "I'm raising two kids. You think I like hearing gunshots when my kids are sleeping in the other room? But you are not stopping the gunshots. You are not getting the guns off the street."
An analysis of department statistics by the New York Civil Liberties Union found police stopped 685,724 people last year, 87 percent of whom were black or Latino. About half had been frisked. Police have largely targeted black and Latino youths and men. Black and Latino men ages 14 to 24 make up about 5 percent of the city's population but accounted for 42 percent of the stops last year, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union's analysis. Ninety percent of the young black and Latino men were innocent.
Last month, a federal judge granted class status to a lawsuit filed by people who have been stopped. They are alleging the stop-and-frisk policy amounts to racial profiling and is unconstitutional. In granting the class-action status, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that there was "overwhelming evidence" that the practice has led to thousands of illegal stops.
The department and Mayor Michael Bloomberg defend the stop-and-frisk program as a way to fight crime and say that it has helped bring about record drops in crime. But critics say the program has produced few weapons or arrests and many of those arrested are picked up on unrelated charges or for resisting arrest because they have questioned the stop.
The New York Police Department also has been under fire for spying on Muslims students, businesses and mosques to collect intelligence on Muslims, an issue members of the delegation said they raised at the meeting.
"If you look at the numbers, no matter how you slice stop, question and frisk, it is a racist and prejudicial policy that violates civil rights and civil liberties," said New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who said he co-chairs the City Council's gun violence.
Beyond that, the program is a failure in stemming gun violence. The police found one gun for every 3,000 people stopped, he said.
"Mayor Bloomberg sometimes steps out of New York City and goes national," Williams said. "When it comes to guns nationally he does some very good things. On a local level, we want people to know, he is backwards on this procedure and this policy ... and it's dangerous for people to look at what is happening in New York City and try to emulate that."