Today a federal judge ruled unconstitutional New York City’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy that permits police officers to detain pedestrians if they reasonably suspect that detainees are involved or will be eventually involved in potential criminal activity.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, over half a million individuals were stopped in 2012 on the streets of New York City. More than half of those individuals (more than 280,000) were black, and another third of those individuals (more than 160,000) were Hispanic. Nearly 90% of those stopped were totally innocent.
Because the statistics show that “stop-and-frisk” has lopsidedly targeted minorities, civil libertarians have criticized the program as an unconstitutionally intrusive violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. They argue that because profiling plays a large part in deciding who is stopped, minority groups regularly suffer unreasonable searches on the streets of New York.
Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the Federal District Court in Manhattan agreed. She ordered a federal monitor to oversee the NYPD’s implementation of a plan that would end profiling of innocent people on city streets.
The ruling was a welcome development for LGBTQ advocates in and around the city. More than a dozen local and national advocacy groups signed on to a letter last month urging the New York City Council to end “police profiling based on sexual orientation and gender identity” after the New York Times highlighted the issue in an article entitled Arrests by the Fashion Police.
The Times article focused on gender-nonconforming individuals, especially men dressed in drag and transgender women in particular, who had been arrested on the streets of New York on suspicion of prostitution.
Arrests of trans and gender nonconforming individuals on charges of prostitution are apparently a regular occurrence in the city and elsewhere. LGBTQ advocates hope that the ruling paves the way for New York and other cities to end policing practices that profile individuals on the basis of gender conformity.