On August, 14, 2013, The New York Times published an article entitled, "Racial Profiling Lives On." The article began by pointing out how the historic ruling by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin that the stop-and-frisk practices employed by the New York Police Department were unconstitutional and how it was being applauded as a major victory against major policing.
Scheindlin is a United States District Court judge on senior status for the Southern District of New York; she was nominated by President Bill Clinton on July 28, 1994. In August of 2013, Judge Scheindlin ruled that the New York city stop-and-frisk program was unconstitutional and she ordered immediate changes to the program; she also called for a monitor to supervise the reforms. The case was Floyd v. City of New York.
The New York City stop-question-and-frisk program is a practice of the New York City Police Department in which police officers stop and question thousands of pedestrians annually and frisk them for any weapons or other contraband. The rules for this program are found in the New York State Criminal Procedure Law §140.50. In 2011 alone, 684,000 people were stopped under this program and the vast majority of them were African American or Latino.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was disappointed with the decision. "This is a very dangerous decision made by a judge who I think does not understand how policing works," he said after the decision was handed down earlier this month.
According to The New York Times, Scheindlin's decision does nothing to disrupt the authority the Supreme Court has given police officers to target African Americans and Latinos with little or no basis. Despite the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the Supreme Court's interpretation of that provision still gives officers wide discretion when it comes to their methods for following, stopping, questioning and frisking someone as well as employing excessive force against African Americans and Latinos who have not demonstrated any indication of wrongdoing.
There are still many gray areas where the Fourth Amendment won't hold up in court; for example, an officer can ask a suspect permission to search their belongings and the officer is not required to inform the suspect that they have the right to refuse consent and walk away. The Supreme Court holds that people don't have the right to know that they can refuse to have an officer conduct a search.
An officer can still stop and frisk someone for weapons based on the officer's "reasonable suspicion" – a standard that is more than a hunch but less than probable cause. Unfortunately, nothing in Scheindlin's opinion challenges this standard and it's one that is easy for police officers to meet.
The Supreme Court has made it clear that simply being in a "high crime" area (which is usually a black or Latino neighborhood) can still be a factor used by officers to determine if someone is armed or dangerous. For example, if the suspect ran from an officer on foot, the simple process of running would give the officer reasonable suspicion, especially if he fled in a high crime area. If the person was fleeing in a vehicle, then the officer could easily stop him if he had probable cause that the suspect had committed any traffic infraction, no matter how minor.
The Times pointed out how even if the suspect, like Rodney G. King or Oscar Grant III didn't resist, but was beaten or shot by a police officer, the likelihood of winning an excessive force claim would not be easy. Courts and jurors have a tendency to lean towards the police's judgments, even when those judgments are based on racial stereotypes that render a black man more dangerous than an armed policeman.
While The Times wasn't saying that Judge Scheindlin's ruling was unimportant, it pointed out how she ruled on a particular policy. The victor continues to be the higher body of law, the Supreme Court doctrine which continues to expose African Americans and Latinos to racial profiling, harassment and unnecessary violence.