The city has argued that the races of those stopped mirror the racial composition of those involved in committing crimes. If anything, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in June, police “disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.”
This dismissive attitude undervalues the corrosive impact of a stop-and-frisk program that is both inadequately supervised and racially skewed. Police stops are not airport security checks, an inconvenience that everyone must undergo in the interest of public safety. They are more intrusive, humiliating and targeted.
“No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life,” Scheindlin wrote.
New York City is a far safer place than it was several decades ago; Bloomberg may be correct, as he said in decrying the decision, that stop-and-frisk “has saved countless lives,” most of them “black and Hispanic young men.”
But Scheindlin did not order an end to stop-and-frisk. She ordered that it be conducted more carefully, with more training before the fact and more supervision afterward.
Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement on mandatory minimum sentences dealt with the opposite problem: inadequate discretion when it comes to sentencing, once again an issue with racial overtones.
Holder described a nation “coldly efficient in our incarceration efforts,” with a prison population that has grown by almost 800 percent since 1980 and almost half of the inmates serving time for drug-related crimes.
Holder singled out “draconian mandatory minimum sentences” for drug crimes. “Because they oftentimes generate unfairly long sentences, they breed disrespect for the system,” Holder said. “When applied indiscriminately, they do not serve public safety.”
And, as with stop-and-frisk, there is a racial element bound up in mandatory minimum laws. As Holder noted, “They ... have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color.”