Excellent editorial in the New York Times: Police Powers in New York
Attorney General Eric Holder is rightly reviewing the constitutionally suspect surveillance practices that the New York City Police Department has employed against law-abiding Muslims. The Justice Department should also review other practices â€” chief among them, stop-and-frisk â€” that have virtually eliminated the presumption of innocence and that treat citizens, and even entire communities, as suspect even after they are proved innocent.
What the New York Times editors get is that it isn’t just one practice that got some press that’s the problem, but rather a whole series of practices by the police.
The Police Departmentâ€™s tendency toward blanket surveillance is on vivid display in its stop-and-frisk program, which results in the stopping of more than 600,000 mainly minority citizens on the streets every year. The department credits the program with reducing crime, but there is no proof that it does. […] In addition to criminalizing the victims of these stops, the program has undermined respect for law enforcement in the very communities where it is most needed. […]
Like stop-and-frisk, the cityâ€™s marijuana arrest initiative has also raised profound civil rights concerns. […] The department tacitly admitted wrongdoing last year, in a memo telling officers to arrest people only if the drug was in plain public view. But it could take years before the rank and file embrace the change. […]
The dangers associated with the program were underscored last month in the Bronx when an overzealous drug detail pursued an unarmed teenager into his home and shot him to death. A packet of marijuana was found at the scene.
Since 9/11, courts have broadened the Police Departmentâ€™s investigative authority in the vital interest of protecting the city from terrorist attack. The department should not interpret that as a license to run roughshod over the Constitution.
This is important. 9/11 greatly hampered our ability as reformers to make the case that enforcement as a means of drug policy is damaging both to individual rights and to society as a whole. People were so consumed by the fear (whipped up by those who sought to exploit it) that they blindly acceded to any enforcement outrage as if that would give them safety.
It’s good to see a major media outlet calling for proper, restrained, and yes, even… Constitutional policing.