The American police have always had a pretty poor attitude towards race relations – the Watts Rebellion was sparked by a similar level of intimidation, and who can forget Rodney King?
A New York State Senator testified in federal court Monday that New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly explained the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk program as a means of instilling fear in young African American and Hispanic men.
Twenty-two year NYPD veteran and State Senator Eric Adams told the court that in 2010 he traveled to Albany to voice his support to a bill that would forbid the NYPD from keeping a database of information pulled from stop-and-frisks that did not lead to an arrest. That bill would ultimately pass, but Adams testified on Monday that, upon telling Kelly the program disproportionately targeted young black and Latino men, the commissioner was far from concerned.
The new testimony follows evidence from more than one New York cop indicating that the department has set, officially or unofficially, quotas for stop-and-frisks. There has also been recent testimony from those officers that the program specifically targets people of color.
Kelly “stated that he targeted and focused on that group because he wanted to instill fear in them that every time they left their homes they could be targeted by police,” Adams said.
He said Kelly justified his reasoning by asking, “How else would we get rid of guns?”
“I was amazed,” Adams said in court. “I told him that was illegal.”
Under Kelly and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg the NYPD has stopped an estimated 4.4 million people, most of whom have been in the demographic Kelly allegedly described to Adams. The policy allows officers to stop pedestrians on the street if they perceive that person is on the way to committing a crime, is in the process of committing a crime, or leaving the scene of a crime. Roughly 94 per cent of the stops result in no charges.
The program has come under attack in recent months as civil rights lawyers try to prove stop-and-frisk is a violation of the 4th and 14th amendments. Adams’ testimony comes after previous witnesses told the court that NYPD officers have acted with impunity since the program began in 2002.
Adams said stop-and-frisk is a “great tool” to stopping crime but mentioned that “nowhere” does it empower the NYPD to “use the tool to instill fear. Nowhere.”
City attorney Heidi Grossman questioned Adams’ recollection of the conversation while claiming Kelly meant officers should “instill belief” in young men of minority backgrounds, not “instill fear,” though she did not specify what such a belief would be in.
“I don’t think anyone in their right mind would believe the police commissioner would say the police department is targeting, just for targeting, blacks and Hispanics,” Grossman said.
She also tried to read from a written statement from Kelly denying the claim before being stopped by Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin.
“If he’d like to come here, he’s welcome in this courtroom,” Scheindlin said, regarding Grossman’s attempted “backdoor” testimony from Kelly.
Outside the courthouse Adams told reporters that because his Brooklyn district has one of the highest crime rates in the city, it is also heavily policed. He said his constituents find themselves trying to stay away from crime as well as overbearing law enforcement.
“They feel trapped,” he said, adding that “Cops don’t want to do this. Cops are so frustrated they are wearing wires to roll call.”