Does The Stop-and-Frisk Practice Sanction Racial Profiling?

With the national spotlight on the Trayvon Martin story raising questions of racial stereotyping in the name of maintaining public safety, New York lawmakers are debating a police practice opponents say sanctions racial profiling. Under New York City’s stop-and-frisk practice, officers can stop, question and frisk people on the street deemed suspicious.

By and large, lawmakers who oppose the stop-and-frisk tactic are racial minorities, some of whom say they have been stopped by police because of their race. Many white lawmakers, however, have been silent on the issue or support the practice.

Gov. David A. Paterson, the state’s first black governor, told The New York Times that he’s been stopped three times by police. “It’s a feeling of being degraded. I think that’s what people who it hasn’t happened to don’t understand.”

Supporters and police officials have said that the practice helps reduce violence that has disproportionately affected black and Latino communities.

“There’s more police assigned to a place like East New York than, say, a precinct in Riverdale,” said the Police Department spokesman, Paul J. Browne, “so the police are going to be in a position to observe suspicious behavior more frequently.”

The Police Department has said that it conducted a record 684,330 stops last year, and that 87 percent of those stopped were black or Hispanic. About 10 percent of the stops led to arrests or summonses and 1 percent to the recovery of a weapon, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has examined police data.

But the Police Department frames the numbers in a different way: last year, it said, it recovered 8,000 weapons, 800 of them handguns, via stops. And over the last decade, the number of murders has dropped by 51 percent, “in part because of stop, question and frisk,” Mr. Browne said.

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