A Glimmer of Sanity for U.S. Crime Fighters

Today, a federal judge ruled that the New York City Police Department's (NYPD) controversial stop-and-frisk program unconstitutionally targets minorities; hundreds of thousands of people are stopped every year for little or no reason. Being stopped is most certainly what the judge called a "demeaning and humiliating experience," but it is a humiliation from which white New Yorkers have been largely exempt. After millions of stops over the last decade, things are poised to change.

The New York Civil Liberties Union recently compiled a detailed report on the NYPD's stop-and-frisk efforts, and the data is troubling, if not particularly surprising. On the streets of New York City in 2012, police officers stopped and questioned individuals 532,911 times. That means that nearly 1,500 times a day, someone on a New York City street is answering to police officers not because they're a suspect in a particular crime, but usually because of what the police call "furtive movements." This 2012 figure is actually a decrease from 2011, when 685,724 stops took place. As you probably know, most of these stops are of blacks and Latinos, who despite making up a combined 51 percent of the New York population, make up 86.6 percent of the stops. Only 9.7 percent of the stops were of white people.

The police insist that stop-and-frisk prevents crimes. But the largest category of arrests are for marijuana possession, which is actually a non-criminal violation in New York City that is supposed to result in a ticket, not an arrest. That is, unless the marijuana is "publicly displayed." So the way it works is that the cops demand you empty your pockets, and when they discover some pot along with your keys and change, they arrest you for publicly displaying it. That happened over 5,300 times in 2012. And what about weapons? According to NYPD policy, a frisk is only supposed to take place when the officers believe the person has a weapon; about half of all stops end up involving a frisk. Suspicions end up being correct only two percent of the time. In other words, 49 out of 50 times that a New York City police officer frisks someone because they think the person has a weapon, they're wrong.

This court decision won't end stop-and-frisk, but it could make the program less discriminatory and more focused on people cops actually suspect of committing crimes, as opposed to just people with the wrong skin color committing the suspicious act of walking down the street. Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder announced new policy changes meant to address the explosion in the population of our federal prisons. They include not explicitly mentioning the quantity of drugs defendants are caught with in their indictments, which would allow courts leeway to avoid the mandatory minimum laws that often send low-level drug offenders to jail for terms more befitting those guilty of murder.

Stop-and-frisk and mandatory minimums are part of a larger approach to crime in general, but particularly to drug use, that has given America more people behind bars per capita than any other nation on Earth. We have a long way to go before our criminal justice system treats innocent people, actual suspects, and those guilty of crimes in ways that can be defended as rational, smart, and just. But glimmers of sanity seem to be appearing.

SO THEY SAY

"Socialism requires that government becomes your god. That’s why they have to destroy the concept of God. They have to destroy all loyalties except loyalty to government. That’s what’s behind homosexual marriage.”

Rafael Cruz, father of Ted Cruz, at the Family Leadership Summit this weekend.

 

DAILY MEME: IT'S IOWA, IOWA, GOTTA GET DOWN IN IOWA

  • The 2016 elections may be a few years off, but any politician visiting the Midwestern state is bound to draw the attention of scores of primary prognosticators. 
  • Although, being in presidential election country three years early should maybe embarrass political reporters ... as Chris Moody puts it, "Running into other reporters in Iowa for presidential coverage in 2013 is like locking eyes with a church friend at a strip club."
  • And all your favorite conservatives—including the  tag team mentioned in So They Say—were there this weekend talking at the 2013 Family Leadership Summit (and warned attendees not to be "the weird one" reporters always love to congregate around.
  • Rick Santorum was warning against the term "middle class" (clear "Marxist talk," in case you were wondering).
  • Representative Steve King shared his belief that "our founding fathers were moved around on this continent by God like men on a chess board."
  • Stephen Baldwin (uh, okay?) told the crowd, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, what’s probably more important than my standing up for Jesus in Hollywood is for each and every one of us to stand up for Jesus in this normal, regular world that we live in." (Santorum also had some strong words to say about Hollywood).
  • However, pundits have yet to ascertain what the defacing of Iowa's famous butter cow means for 2016. 
  • Even potential Democratic candidates are sparking some rumors in the state. A Madam President event on Friday, unsurprisingly, brought Hillary Clinton's name back into the spotlight.
  • While other news organizations began to wonder if Hillary Clinton will just skip the state, given her poor performance there in 2008.
  • Vice President Joe Biden will be visiting the state next month, attending an event favored by previous presidential hopefuls.
  • Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, is visiting  Iowa tomorrow to kick up some dust about Obamacare. Yeah, wouldn't read too much into that.
  • Regardless of all the hoopla, it's important to note that Iowa isn't even the best predictor of a general election even once primary season starts. Feel free to get your popcorn and be entertained by the pre-game performances ... but don't count on it being much more than fun to bide the time.

WHAT WE'RE WRITING

WHAT WE'RE READING

  • Today in useless quizzes: How well do you know Senate minority whips past and present?
  • The Washington Post profiles Scott Stringer, the man running against Eliot Spitzer.
  • Everyone complains about Washington, but no one ever leaves—especially after they learn of the money to be made in the beltway.
  • Nate Cohn argues that Texas isn't about to turn blue anytime soon.
  • Does Chief Justice John Roberts have too much power?
  • New cracks are emerging in Jeb Bush's once-sterling image as a "education governor."
  • Many Syrian Americans are finding ways to oppose Assad stateside.
  • The GOP establishment is struggling to pick the most electable candidates while keeping in the good graces of its base.

POLL OF THE DAY

Nearly 60 percent of Americans support more expensive health insurance for smokers, down from 65 percent a decade ago, according to new poll results released by Gallup. Less than half of those polled favored the same policy for anyone who is obese. That distinction may be in part because according to another Gallup poll, just 19 percent of Americans smoke, while 45 percent consider themselves overweight.

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