Every time we read the phrase “stop-and-frisk,” we can’t help wishing it were the name of, say, a dance craze sweeping the nation. Or a shorthand way of describing a very complicated maneuver involved in French cooking. But instead, of course, the name connotes a controversial law-enforcement practice whose champions say has kept New York City’s crime rates low, and whose critics (including Cornel West) say fosters racial profiling. Critics be damned, New York City is stop-and-friskin’ it like it’s hot.
The city employed the tactic 14 percent more often in 2011 than in 2010, reports The Wall Street Journal, for a total of 686,330 people — a record level. Twelve percent of those people were arrested, and 819 guns were confiscated. Ninety-two percent of the people stopped were men. Eighty-seven percent were Hispanic or African-American. By way of reference, African-Americans and Hispanics comprise a combined 59 percent of the city’s population, so … there’s an obvious disparity there. The NYPD counters that the racial breakdown “comport[s] by race with victim-crime reports,” and that just 9 percent of violent crime suspects were white last year. But that defense doesn’t do much to address the concern of civil-liberties advocates, who say the vague criterion of “reasonable suspicion” (as opposed to the higher bar of “probable cause”) has a whole lot more to do with race than the NYPD is acknowledging.