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Bloomberg Gives With One Hand; Takes With the Other

Ezekiel Edwards,
Former Special Counsel,
ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project
Rebecca McCray,
Managing Editor,
American Civil Liberties Union
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August 5, 2011

This week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he would invest $30 million from his own pocket to uplift the young black and Latino men who are most excluded from New York’s civic, educational and economic life. While this proposal is generous, it fails to address the fact that the Bloomberg administration has supported policies that have led to staggering racial disparities in New York’s corrections system. While funding job recruitment and education programs is indeed important, there’s a critical missing piece in this grand plan: ending NYPD’s widespread aggressive stop and frisk policies that target communities of color at skyrocketing rates and contribute markedly to the marginalization of the very same communities Bloomberg now aims to help.

In 1990, the NYPD stopped and frisked 41,438 people. In 2009, that number ballooned to 576,394. In fact, over the 3 1/2 years leading up to 2009, the NYPD initiated over 1.6 million stops of New Yorkers. Communities of color have had to bear the brunt of this intrusive and often humiliating police practice — in particular, the same young men the Bloomberg administration’s new plan seeks to assist. Of the stop-and-frisks that the police carried out last year, 84 percent were of African-Americans and Latinos. Eighty-five percent of blacks and Latinos who were stopped were also frisked, compared to 8 percent of white people. And most of these stops were of innocent people — from 2005 through the first half of 2008, only 4 to 6 percent of all NYPD-initiated stops resulted in arrest.

Not coincidentally, the percentage of African-Americans and Latinos who are stopped and frisked by the NYPD mirrors the racial disparities of our city’s jails. According to data from the Bloomberg administration, 84 percent of the people held in the city’s detention facilities are African-American or Latino, even though the populations of young white, black and Latino men in New York are roughly equal.

In addition to stopping tens of thousands of innocent people of color, the city spent over $75 million last year to arrest and charge over 50,000 people for possession of low-level marijuana — 86 percent of whom are black or Latino. Indeed, more people were arrested for marijuana possession in New York than in any other city in the world. Compare this to 1991, when the number of misdemeanor marijuana arrests stood at just 774. Bloomberg’s pledge to contribute to new programs aimed at helping minority youth is generous, but until NYPD’s counterproductive policies are addressed, taxpayers will continue to make their own hefty contribution to police practices that harm the communities that most need support.

If Bloomberg’s program is truly “intended to prevent young men from entering or returning to the criminal justice system,” it should end its out of control stop-and-frisk policy of young men of color, and cease wasting the city’s precious resources on non-criminal behavior. Bloomberg is allegedly “especially surprised and unsettled” by the high rates of recidivism among young black and Latino men. He could help ease his anxiety by addressing the city’s own policies that unnecessarily act as an entry point into the criminal justice system for young men of color and unfairly subject entire communities to unnecessary police contact.

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