NEW YORK, (Reuters) – A U.S. judge ruled on Monday the New York Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” crime-fighting tactic was unconstitutional, dealing a stinging rebuke to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who vowed to appeal the ruling.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin called it “indirect racial profiling” because it targeted racially defined groups, resulting in the disproportionate and discriminatory stopping of tens of thousands of blacks and Hispanics while the city’s highest officials “turned a blind eye,” she said.
“No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life,” Scheindlin wrote in her opinion.
But Bloomberg stood his ground. “People also have a right to walk down the street without being killed or mugged,” he said at a news conference, repeating his conviction that the program resulted in a drastic reduction in crime that made New York the “poster child” for safe U.S. cities.
Political pundits said the ruling would tarnish Bloomberg’s legacy and may trip up NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who President Barack Obama has indicated may be a possible nominee for U.S. secretary of homeland security.
“It will be a heavy lift to designate someone who’s been excoriated by a federal judge for civil rights violations,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former police officer and prosecutor who is a professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
As part of her ruling, Scheindlin ordered the appointment of an independent monitor and other immediate changes to police policies. Her “remedies” address two lawsuits, one brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and the other by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Several black and Hispanic men named as plaintiffs gathered at a CCR press conference, some choking back tears as they cheered the ruling for exposing racial profiling by U.S. authorities.
“When I got the call this morning the first thing I did was cry,” said David Ourlicht, 25, who was stopped at St. John’s University in Queens in 2008, ostensibly for walking in a suspicious way with a bulge under his winter clothing.
“It’s a really good picture of what’s going on in society,” said Ourlicht, who is a mixed race man of black and white heritage.
Bloomberg told reporters his administration will appeal the ruling. That will take place as soon as the monitor makes any kind of request, at which time the city will seek an immediate stay pending the outcome of the appeal, said Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo.
Bloomberg has resisted interference in his police policies, especially that of stopping, questioning and frisking anyone for “reasonable suspicion” in high-crime areas. An added benefit, he said at the press conference, was “the possibility of being stopped acts as a vital deterrent.”
The mayor has sought to preserve a legacy that includes a 30 percent reduction in violent crime since 2001, the year he was first elected. Bloomberg will leave office on Jan. 1 after 12 years in office.
All four leading candidates in next month’s Democratic mayoral primary have taken a stand against “stop and frisk,” but none of them has said they would abolish the police practice.