NEW YORK, Oct 21 (Reuters) – The arrest of a New York Police Department officer last week for the allegedly false arrest of an African-American man has put new momentum behind calls to change NYPD “stop and frisk” policies that critics say are unfairly targeting minorities.
According to charges filed by Brooklyn federal prosecutors, on the night of April 15, Officer Michael Daragjati, 32, stopped and frisked an African-American man in the Stapleton neighborhood of Staten Island. No firearm or contraband was found on the man, but when he complained about the stop, Daragjati arrested him for resisting arrest, prosecutors said.
Later that day, Daragjati made false statements in a complaint against the victim, prosecutors said. Daragjati then called a friend and said that he had “fried another nigger,” according to a government recording of the phone call. He is currently being held without bail.
While the NYPD has disavowed Daragjati’s actions, State Senator Eric Adams said during a press conference Wednesday that those actions were a “clear example of the abuse of the ‘stop and frisk’ policy.”
Adams was joined at the press conference by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Councilmember Juumane Williams, along with representatives from the Center for Constitutional Rights and Make the Road New York, a community advocacy organization based in Brooklyn. Saying he was “appalled” by the arrest, Adams called for a federal investigation into the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy.
Adams added that “the bigger issue here is that this is another example of how this city’s police culture has been allowed to cultivate racist and sexist mentalities in some of its officers.”
‘POLICE STOPS SAVE LIVES’
Since the beginning of the Bloomberg administration in 2002, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has deployed a strategy known as “hot-spots policing,” in which the NYPD focused the bulk of its crime-fighting, monitoring and supervision resources on neighborhoods where analysis showed that serious crime rates were the highest.
The NYPD said that the targeted police tactics have led to lower crime rates across the city without significant increases in spending.
“Police stops save lives, especially in minority communities,” said NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne. In the first eight years of the Bloomberg administration, there were 2,734 fewer murders in the city than the eight years before, Browne said.
But critics say the practice has led to institutionalized racial profiling that has created deep mistrust of police officers in minority communities. Cases such as Daragjati’s, they say, only underscore the widening rift.
“I think it would be a serious error to write off Daragjati as an aberration,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“The blatant expression of racism may be unusual, but the underlying attitudes that have prompted the policies of stopping and frisking hundreds of thousands of innocent black and brown New Yorkers without any suspicion, and imposing a dual system of law enforcement” based on race, she said.
Approximately 85 percent of individuals stopped in 2010 by NYPD officers were black or Latino, according to statistics presented at Wednesday’s press conference. But no arrests were made in 93 percent of those stops, and firearms were only recovered in approximately 0.2 percent of stops.
This year, the NYPD is on track to make 700,000 stops, up from 601,055 in 2010, according to NYPD statistics obtained by the NYCLU.
‘INTERVENTION IS NEEDED’
In addition to the press conference, Stringer and Adams sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, contending that the NYPD’s “failure cannot be fixed by lawsuits against individual officers alone.”
“Federal intervention is needed, and it is needed now,” they wrote in the letter, which was addressed to Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez.
This is not the first time the NYPD has faced litigation over its stop-and-frisk policies. In 1999, a class-action lawsuit brought against NYPD and the city of New York targeting the now-disbanded Street Crime Unit, seeking to stop the patrol unit from making improper stop-and-frisks.
The suit resulted in a settlement requiring the NYPD to keep tabs on its stop-and-frisks and take steps to ensure that officers do not engage in racial profiling. But the city’s alleged failure to comply with the terms of the agreement prompted counsel from the Center for Constitutional Rights — who helped represent plaintiffs in the 1999 lawsuit — to bring the most recent lawsuit, one of the broadest challenges yet to the program.
In August, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the latest suit — a putative class-action lawsuit brought by two African-American men who said they were illegally targeted by police — could proceed to trial.
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