By Lauren Victoria Burke
It’s been two months since Daniel Pantaleo strangled Eric Garner, 48, to death on a sidewalk in Staten Island, N.Y. Darren Wilson shot 18-year-old Michael Brown to death on August 9. Since then, there has been nothing but silence from Officers Pantaleo and Wilson.
The police killings have also been met with silence from so-called law and order types who are more interested in order than law.
Tougher police tactics, including the unjustified killing of unarmed African Americans, seem to be escalating at a time crime rates are declining. New York City, which has a population of more than 8 million people, including at least 2 million African Americans, is a case in point.
The crime rate there has been falling for more than a decade. In 2012, there were 419 murders. By 2013, that figure had fallen to 332. Yet, egged on by a Republican-turned-independent mayor, aggressive police tactics have only heightened tension been cops and the community.
After Michael Bloomberg became mayor in 2003, stop-and-frisk rose 600 percent. New Yorkers were stopped and searched a record highs under Bloomberg. In 2011 alone, 684,330 people were stopped and searched by the NYPD. Incredibly, 90 percent of those stopped were completely innocent.
During an interview last year, Bloomberg tuned logic on its head. Never mind that New York arrests Blacks at a rate of 4.5 more than Whites for marijuana though Blacks and Whites use the drug at the same rates. Bloomberg had his own special logic.
“I think we disproportionately stop Whites too much and minorities too little,” Bloomberg said of his stop-and-search policies that interrupted the lives of 4 million innocent New Yorker over eight years.
Sadly, the more he talked, the less sense he made. “It’s exactly the reverse of what they’re saying,” the mayor said, “I don’t know where they went to school, but they certainly didn’t take a math course.”
Speaking of math, the rate at which Black men between 14 and 24 were stopped by police was 106 percent when Bloomberg was mayor. In 2011, there were more Black males in that age bracket stopped by the NYPD than their numbers in the city in total. Police must have either stopped the same people multiple times or those traveling though the city on their way to Connecticut and New Jersey. Either way, they stops were not productive.
While Bloomberg continued to brag about a crime “strategy” that featured a 90 percent failure rate, conservatives said nothing. Progressive Democrats said little. Bloomberg said there was nothing racist about it. The fact is only Blacks and Hispanics could or would be targeted by police in such a way.
Not racist? Surely no one believed it was a coincidence that more than 90 percent of 4 million police stops were of Blacks and Hispanics was by “coincidence.”
In an attempt to defend his department’s actions, Commissioner Ray Kelly loved to say, “We go where the crime is.” Does we want us to believe there is no crime committed by Whites in Greenwich Village or SOHO?
Finally in March 2013, during a federal trial on the stop-and-frisk policy in March 2013, New York Police Officer Pedro Serrano revealed a tape of his boss, NYPD Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack, instructing him to target “male Blacks 14 and 21.” The tape confirmed what everyone already knew: That the NYPD was targeting people of color.
“Stop the right people, the right time, the right location,” said McCormack. “I have no problem telling you this,” he continues. “Male Blacks. And I told you at roll call… male Blacks 14 to 21,” said McCormack.
Though Bloomberg and Ray Kelly are finally gone certain policy remains.
“Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has said the disproportionate number of summonses for low-level offenses doled out in minority communities are a result of cops concentrating their efforts on “the most problematic areas of the city,” riddled by crime and quality-of-life complaints,” wrote Sarah Ryley in a story on policing in New York Daily News.
What’s problematic is that regardless who heads City Hall or the NYPD, the “problem” is always viewed as Blacks or Hispanics.
Lauren Victoria Burke is freelance writer and creator of the blog Crewof42.com, which covers African American members of Congress. She Burke appears regularly on “NewsOneNow with Roland Martin” and on WHUR FM, 900 AM WURD. She worked previously at USA Today and ABC News. She can be reached through her website, laurenvictoriaburke.com, or Twitter @Crewof42 or by e-mail at LBurke007@gmail.com.