Gunfire broke out across New York two weekends ago, killing four males and hitting a preteen girl in the torso. The shootings, six episodes in all, were the usual mindless culmination of street disputes: 10-year-old Briana Palmer was struck when two groups of men in Far Rockaway, one sitting on a staircase, the other across the street, opened fire on each other. “It’s crazy what goes on here. It needs to stop,” a bystander told the press.
Such violence and its victims are wholly absent from US District Judge Shira Scheindlin’s 200-page opinion this week declaring that the New York Police Department has been deliberately targeting blacks and Hispanics for illegal street stops.
The judge makes no mention of the crime that leaves Brooklynites in, say, Brownsville, facing an 81 times higher chance of getting shot than residents of Bay Ridge. More important, she seems ignorant of how high crime rates affect police practice in ways that statistical models can’t quantify — above all, by generating community demands for increased stop activity.
Last fall, I spoke with an elderly cancer amputee in the South Bronx who is terrified of the trespassing youth who congregate in her building’s lobby. She only goes down to get her mail when her local officers have cleared out the interlopers: “As long as you see the police, everything’s A-OK,” she said.
Even with those trespass patrols (which Scheindlin partly invalidated earlier this year), this wheelchair-bound grandmother still longs for the watchtower that the 44th Precinct erected on her block several summers ago to deter shootings: “It was the peacefulest summer ever. I wish we’d get our [surveillance] police back. Please, Jesus, send them back!”
Police commanders in high-crime precincts hear such requests constantly: Get the dealers and loiterers out of my lobby, away from my stoop, off the corner. Law-abiding residents in high-crime areas understand something that escapes Scheindlin: Despite New York’s record-breaking crime drop, the police are often the only force that stands between them and anarchy.
But in responding to the community’s pleas for public order, the NYPD will inevitably generate stop data that can be used against it in the next racial-profiling lawsuit. Requests for increased enforcement come disproportionately from minority areas, so the resulting police activity will almost inevitably be directed at minority offenders.
Scheindlin was clearly outraged by the tough talk captured on secretly recorded precinct roll call tapes and played at trial. On Halloween 2008, the deputy inspector of Brownsville’s 81st Precinct told his officers: “Tonight is zero tolerance. It’s New Year’s Eve all over again. Everybody goes. I don’t care. . . . They got [bandanas] on and they’re running like nuts down the block, chasing people? Grab them. F--- it. You’re preventing a robbery . . . . You know that and I know that.”
A week later, a lieutenant in the same precinct exhorted his officers: “we’ve got to keep the corner clear. . . . Because if you get too big of a crowd there, you know, . . . they’re going to think that they own the block. We own the block. They don’t own the block, all right?”
The judge hears in such comments only “contempt and hostility . . . toward the local population,” the product of a “virulent precinct culture.” But what those supervisors are describing is the same truth that lay behind early August’s gun homicides: that gangbangers hanging out on corners means trouble. If the cops don’t own the block on behalf of the law-abiding, the thugs will.
The “contempt and hostility” expressed in these comments is toward the criminal population. Had Scheindlin spent time among cops, she’d know of their fierce commitment to protecting the “good people” of their community. The alternative to such passions, however bluntly expressed, is the apathy toward crime in minority neighborhoods that was once common among police nationwide.
Yet Scheindlin doesn’t even seem to accept the fact that crime and victimization rates differ radically across the city, which may partly explain her ruling.
It is a “stereotype,” she writes, that black men are more likely to commit crime than others. She refers snidely to “what the NYPD perceives to be the racial composition of the criminal population” (emphasis added). But that “racial composition” is no mere artifact of biased NYPD perceptions, it is what’s reported to the police by victims, overwhelmingly minority themselves. And those victims report that blacks commit nearly 80 percent of all shootings in the city, though they are 23 percent of the population.
Fighting such lawlessness of course must be done constitutionally: An officer may detain someone for questioning only if he has reasonable suspicion that that person may be involved in criminal conduct. But nothing in the plaintiffs’ case against the city established that the NYPD has been willfully and systematically engaged in unconstitutional stops.
Scheindlin’s claim that the department doesn’t care about following the law is ludicrous; the agency is recognized across the world for its high standards of oversight. Yet her decision, with its embrace of a flawed statistical design for “proving” racial profiling, will penalize the NYPD every time it acts on New Yorkers’ requests for protection or tries to prevent outrages like the gunfight that wounded Briana Palmer.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/scheindlin_victims_fsImpPRAFL2KpNAhOnsLHL