Do the Ends Justify the Means When the Means are Racist?

The Associated Press reports that the New York City Police Department, or NYPD, confiscated nearly 820 guns and over 5,870 knives in 2011. Further, in the 10 years Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been in office, murders have been cut in half; from 2002 to 2011 there were 5,430 murders in the city, and in the 10 years prior to his taking office there were over 11,000 killings.

While these safety achievements should be lauded by the public, one of the techniques used by the NYPD to protect the safety of the public has come under intense scrutiny. Known as "stop, question and frisk," the procedure is being derided as "racist" and is the subject of a class-action lawsuit against the NYPD.

This raises the question: Do the ends justify the means?

Stop, Question and Frisk

If the police officers have a "reasonable suspicion" that a person "is involved in illegal activity, is about to commit a crime or is carrying a gun," according to CNN, that person can be stopped and questioned. According to police records reported by the AP, NYPD officers most often use stop, question and frisk when they see certain "suspicious behaviors."

Nearly 685,000 street stops by the NYPD in 2011 reports the AP. However, a disproportionate number of the people stopped were of color. A report by CNN speculates that this is why there are allegations of racial profiling; of the people stopped by the NYPD in 2011, 53 percent were African-American and 34 percent were Hispanic, according to the AP.

According to the CNN report, the NYPD defends its actions by saying that 96 percent of the victims of shootings are people of color so stopping more people of color is justified on the premise that the suspect pool would most likely also consist of people of color. However, one Council member noted that over the past two years the number shootings in the city has not dropped correspondent with the increased number of stop, question and frisk encounters conducted by the NYPD.

The standard that the NYPD uses for stop, question and frisk is "reasonable suspicion," which is a lower standard than the "probable cause" standard used to make arrests. However, this does not mean that police can conduct "fishing expeditions" by stopping random people of color just walking down the street, or that they can justify stopping a person in hopes of finding him or her in possession of a weapon. Even when the ends mean everyone is safer, that does not mean racially profiling innocent people is excusable.

If you have been arrested or accused of a crime after being stopped on the street by the NYPD, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney about the circumstances surrounding the stop and arrest you were subjected to. Keep in mind that if you have been the victim of police harassment, unlawful search, false arrest or any type of police misconduct, you may be entitled to a substantial monetary award. You might also be eligible for monetary damages if you have been injured by a member of the NYPD or other police agency.

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