The choice before U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin was vexing.
On the one hand, New York City’s “Stop and Frisk” law has been widely credited by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, among others, for making New York “the safest big city in America.”
On the other hand, of the 4 million people who were stopped and frisked since 2002, 90 percent were found to have done nothing wrong and more than 80 percent were black or Hispanic.
It came down to whether the safety of residents trumps the Constitution of the United States, and Scheindlin wisely chose the Constitution when she chose to install a monitor over police enforcement of “Stop and Frisk.”
The Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Section 1 of the 14th Amendment: “… No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
If someone is forced to go through the humiliation of being frisked by a police officer — perhaps in front of his or her children in his or her front yard — based almost solely on racial or ethnic grounds, something is terribly wrong.
“While it is true that any one stop is a limited intrusion in duration and deprivation of liberty, each stop is also a demeaning and humiliating experience,” Scheindlin wrote in her 198-page decision. “No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life.”
Bloomberg, who says he will appeal Scheindlin’s ruling, concedes the judge’s point that people should have the right to walk down a street without worrying about being frisked, but his priority is safety.
“But people also have a right to walk down the street without being killed or mugged,” Bloomberg said. “And for those rights to be protected we have to give members of our police department the tools they need to do their jobs without being micro-managed and second-guessed every day by a judge or a monitor.”
While we understand Bloomberg’s concerns, perceived security doesn’t trump our country’s Constitution. New York City will have to find another, better way to ensure the safety of its citizens.