Echoing what Joan Walsh called Mayor Bloomberg’s “ugly” defense of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practice, police commissioner Ray Kelly asserted Wednesday night that African Americans are “understopped” by police. During an interview with ABC, the commissioner and the policing tactic’s greatest defender, said that “African Americans are being understopped in relation to people being described as perpetrators of violent crime.”
While Mayor Bloomberg has been mayor, the NYPD has carried out over 5 million stop-and-frisks. Analysis by the ACLU of official police data found that over 86 percent of the stops were of black or Latino individuals. The analysis of police data also revealed that 88 percent of the stops did not result in an arrest or summons (and of course an even smaller proportion ever lead to a prosecution, or conviction). The number of innocent people stopped alone serves as ample riposte to Kelly’s suggestion that any demographic is “understopped.”
Kelly suggests that since 75 percent of violent crime victims describe the perpetrators as African American males, it is therefore valid to treat millions of black young men in New York as criminals without grounds. The fact that many perpetrators of violent crime in New York have been African American does not in turn mean that per se African Americans in New York should be assumed violent criminals. The logic is not only flawed, but perpetuates a policing system that, through quotas and targeting certain communities, confirms its own bias about who gets to be a criminal.
And, while we’re at it, here are a few relevant facts to challenge Kelly’s “understopped” claim: The number of stop-and-frisks carried out yearly since 2003 has nearly quadrupled. However, the number of weapons recovered from stops each year has remained pretty much constant. Meanwhile, marijuana arrests have spiked (while suspicion of drug possession is cited by police in less than 1 percent of instances as the reason for a stop). Federal statistics also consistently show that marijuana use is more prevalent among young white people than young black people.