Finally, after many years of effort, the ACLU of MA has been able to secure release and analysis (by a third party) of data on police stops in Boston. What was found should grossly offend anyone with a belief that people ought to be equal before the law.
Their data spans 2007-2010, covering reported stops that did not result in arrest. During that time, for fully three-quarters of such stops, the reason the police stated for the stop was not suspicion of any identifiable crime, but simply “Investigate Person.”
Let’s review the Fourth Amendment for a second, shall we? Even under the immensely damaging precedent set by Terry v. Ohio, which legalized police stops based on “reasonable suspicion,” police still had to suspect that the person stopped was about to commit, was committing, or had just committed a crime. “Investigate Person”? They might as well have written, “I didn’t like his face so I stopped him.” The Constitution requires individualized suspicion. It can’t just be because somebody’s in a high-crime neighborhood, or is walking through a white neighborhood and looks like their face doesn’t belong.
And speaking of faces…
“The proportion of FIOFS reports [i.e. reports on stops] involving Black subjects (63.3%) far exceeded the proportion of Black residents in Boston (24.4%).”
To put this in context: 23% of New Yorkers are black, but 52% of NYPD stops are of black people, which is already pretty darn racist. But based on these documented disparities, and controlling for the fact that a higher proportion of black people are accused and convicted of crimes, the Boston PD is still almost 15% more racist than the NYPD.
The Boston PD is currently arguing that the data cover only up to 2010, and in the four years since then they have become exponentially less racist; if that’s true, then presumably they’ll be willing to release the 2013 data for comparison purposes. No? But…why not?
There’s a rally tonight (October 9) at Boston PD. Get in touch if you’re interested in helping us with our draft bill opposing mass police surveillance and profiling. And read the ACLU’s full report: it’ll be the most important thing you do all day.
But if you really want to have your faith in human nature shaken, go read the comments on the Boston Herald’s (well-written) coverage of the report. To many commenters, it must be true that the massive disparity in stops arises because black people do like all of the crime in Boston. They must not understand what “we controlled for that” means.
One last point. After massive public outcry, the NYPD has enormously scaled back on its stop and frisk program. Has crime risen as a result? No. Actually, it’s down. I don’t get why people aren’t more angry at what this shows: namely, that for twenty years, New York City invested a massive proportion of its police time on a program that was both racist and completely ineffectual at stopping crime. And, till Boston PD formally knocks off this “Investigate Person” nonsense, we’re still doing it.