Yet another chapter was written in the charged saga surrounding the NYPD’s controversial Stop and Frisk practices at a September 28th New York City Council hearing on Stop and Frisk operations in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments.
Why a hearing devoted solely to stops and frisks in public housing? The short answer – which hints at the longer one – is Davis v. City of New York, a pending class action suit that levels some serious allegations against the NYPD regarding these very activities. Indeed, plaintiffs contend that the NYPD has repeatedly and routinely stopped and arrested NYCHA residents and visitors for criminal trespass without an iota of individualized suspicion. None of the arrestees was prosecuted. What’s more, plaintiffs have proffered evidence that these stops and arrests occur more frequently in communities of color than in white or gentrifying communities, indicating that the City of New York and NYCHA has deliberately targeted communities of color. Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al., another pending class action suit, also alleges that the NYPD has conducted unconstitutional stops and engaged in racial profiling.
So why was the September 28th hearing newsworthy? Because the NYPD and NYCHA refused to participate. The NYPD and NYCHA representatives present stood idly by, while concerned attendants, including representatives of the NY Legal Aid Society and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (two of the groups representing the plaintiffs in Davis), trenchantly criticized the NYCHA Stop and Frisk operations. (This silence shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given, for instance, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly’s refusal to testify substantively about these and related issues at a City Council budget meeting this past Spring.)
Paul Browne, NYPD’s spokesman, attributed NYPD and NYCHA’s silence to the pending lawsuits and to the fact that the NYPD and NYCHA agreed to participate on condition that the hearing would not be restricted to Stop and Frisk. Yet, according to the NYT, the NYPD was notified about the nature of the proceedings over a week prior.
Why, then, did the Department and NYCHA bother sending representatives? Maybe they thought that their presence would improve their image with aggrieved community members and concerned organizations. But why the silence? Maybe they felt too uncomfortable to speak up in a relatively inhospitable environment. Maybe their silence was a byproduct of caution in the face of two very serious lawsuits. Or maybe their silence was something of an implicit admission of guilt (The Department’s revision (or clarification?) of its NYCHA stop and frisk procedures suggests that this might not be too far off the mark), a recognition that nothing they might do or say in this forum could help to exonerate them. Whatever the rationale, it’s probably safe to say that neither the NYPD nor NYCHA won over any hearts and minds by appearing and remaining silent in the face of incisive critiques.