Bait-and-Switch on Stop-and-Frisk

As Peter Hart has pointed out (FAIR Blog, 2/25/13, 8/20/13), there’s a lot of misinformation coming from the media on the unconstitutional police strategy known as stop-and-frisk. There’s a powerful urge to believe, it seems, that abusing the Fourth Amendment rights of young men of color somehow makes the rest of us safer.

Take the New York Times‘ write-up today (8/23/13) of the passage of two bills opposed to stop-and-frisk by the New York City Council. Reporter J. David Goodman provided this historical context to the debate:

New York has by far the largest police department in the country, and its crime drop has been bigger and more sustained than in most other major cities. As a result, the contentious debate over how the police conduct stops has been closely followed.

At the heart of the issue is a debate about just how effective the stop-and-frisk policy is. A standard policing practice, police stops ballooned over the last decade as crime fell.

When you have one paragraph talking about how New York City’s “crime drop has been bigger and more sustained” followed by one that refers to something happening “over the last decade as crime fell,” the reader is naturally going to assume that the last decade is when the city had its big, sustained crime drop. But that’s completely wrong.

Homicide Rate in New York City (Wikipedia)As you can see from the accompanying chart, the big drop in New York City’s homicide rate began not 10 years ago but 23 years ago–in 1990, the year Mayor David Dinkins took office. The sharp decline continued until 1998, beginning a more gradual and tentative downward trend, interrupted in 2001 by the major spike of the September 11 attacks.

Stop-and-frisk became a major police tactic starting in 2003, the year after Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office and brought in Ray Kelly as his police commissioner. Its impact on the course of New York City’s crime rate is not perceptible to the naked eye.

But we couldn’t have been subjecting hundreds of thousands of innocent young black and Latino men to random humiliation for no good reason, could we? It’s a question corporate media would rather not answer.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.