Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Federal Government Stops an ILLEGAL New York City Police Policy: 'Stop and Frisk'

Believe it or not, until yesterday, if you were simply walking down the street in New York City, a police officer could have stopped you and frisked you.

What is frisking?  It's when a police officer makes you raise your arms and then feels up and down your body to see whether you have any weapons.  This policy was called 'stop and frisk.'  Yesterday a federal judge (a judge from the US government) determined that this policy is unconstitutional. 

The Constitution is the law of the United States but it also contains a special type or set of laws called 'Amendments.'  These amendments tell the government what it can't do to US citizens.  The government can't stop me from speaking freely, it can't stop me from going to the church I wish to go to etc.  Indeed, the Constitution even states (in the Second Amendment) that the government cannot stop US citizens from owning guns (many people would like to see that changed).

"Stop and Frisk" was found to be unconstitutional because the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution (the amendments are the set of laws that protect the rights of US citizens) states that the police have to have a good reason before they stop anyone for anything.  The police cannot just stop anyone because they want to.  And, this was happening a lot - especially to black and Latino men.  It seems that the New York Police Department regularly went into poor neighborhoods and stopped lots and lots of black and Latino men for no good reason.  In only 1% of the cases did they find weapons.

So for every 100 people who were illegally stopped by the police, they found 1 weapon.

So how did this policy get stopped?  We can thank Alexander Hamilton for that.

Hamilton is the person on the 10 dollar bill.  He was a handsome guy.

He was also a genius.  He argued for a system of government called 'federalism.'  In a federalist system, you have many states but one strong central government.  The central government is stronger than any state or city government.  So the US government in Washington D.C. is the federal government.  Yesterday a federal judge helped the people of New York by declaring that the stop and frisk policy was unconstitutional. 

Here is a picture of the judge who decided 'stop and frisk' was wrong (Judge Shira Scheindlin):

This is a common image of what most people imagine a judge looks like:

Therefore, the policy is now useless.  Stop and frisk is, basically, dead. Mayor Michael Bloomberg (perhaps the worst mayor in NY City history - a mayor is the leader of a city) is very upset and has stated he will try to go to a higher court.  I think the higher court will have to agree, however, that stop and frisk was WRONG.  This is supposed to be a free country.  How can you have a free country if you have a bunch of cops running around frisking black and Latino folks?  To be honest with you, however, Bloomberg never really cared that much about black and Latino folks.

In this case, the American system worked.  Alexander Hamilton is laughing at Michael Bloomberg somewhere, right now.

Here's an article from Time magazine.  I apologize - when you click on the link you are going to see huge advertisements - please ignore the ads and go to the story.


Vocabulary to help you understand the story:

violated rights/federal intervention - a right is when some type of behavior or action is protected by the law.  Americans have the right to free speech, freedom of religion etc.  Federal intervention is when the federal government thinks that a state or city is stopping (violating) people's rights that are promised to the people in the Constitution and then the federal government steps in (intervenes) or interferes with this violation - the federal government stops the state or city government from harming the rights of the people.

controversial - if something is controversial many people like the thing and many people dislike it. Something controversial generates a lot of arguments.

a tactic - a strategy or a way to try to solve some type of problem.

to be dealt a blow - if something is dealt a blow it is hurt by something.  A 'blow' is like a punch (when one person hits another person).  To be dealt a blow means to be given a blow or punch.  if something happens to eliminate something altogether, that something is dealt a death blow.  In the 1950s there was a law that black children could not go to white schools.  That law was dealt a death blow by the Supreme court in 1954.

siding with - if you side with someone, you favor or support that person as opposed to another person.  If you take someone's side, you agree with or support that person.

to be targeted - if someone or a group is targeted, this means that they are the only ones who are affected by something; they are picked out for a different type of treatment.

widespread - all over the place.

racial profiling - this is when the police think that just because a person is black or Latino he might be more likely to commit a crime than a white or Asian person.

violating the 4th Amendment - the 4th Amendment states that the police cannot search people for no good reason, so the New York Police were breaking this law or violating this amendment. An amendment was an addition to the Constitution.

equal protection clause - a part of the Constitution that says every has to be protected regardless of race or sex or other reason.

tension between liberty and public safety -  if there is tension between two things or two people, there is a type of struggle between them.  It's as if freedom and safety are fighting against each other - Bloomberg would claim to believe in safety while the federal judge would claim to believe in freedom.

Hispanic - Latino

a person's life was interrupted - the judge is saying that every time an innocent person was stopped, his life was kind of messed up.  Nobody wants to be stopped by the police for no reason.  When the police stopped innocent people, it was as if they stopped the person's life and bothered the person so much that the person's life was interrupted.

it punts the decision - to punt is an American football term. If a team is not successful it will often punt the football, which means it will give the football to the other team but it will kick the ball very far down the field so the other team has to work hard to score points.  So if you punt something to someone else, you hand a problem over to them.  Here is a punt - in this case the team that caught the punt ran the ball all the way back.

the legacy -  a politician's legacy is how the politician will be remembered.  Basically Bloomberg will not be remembered for anything good.  He will either be forgotten or remembered as the mayor who did nothing for 12 years.

vigorously defended - strongly defended.

integral to the drop in crime - an important reason, or the important reason, as to why  crime numbers dropped.  Actually Bloomberg has been following a policy that many cities are following.  They are making American cities too expensive for the very poor to live in them and so poor people are moving out of cities and into suburbs (areas around the city).  If you push very poor people out and bring very rich people in, the crime rate of a city will drop.  You are not solving the crime problem, however, you are just pushing it away.  Bloomberg was very good at pushing problems away.

tenure - the amount of time that a person works at a job.

vowing to appeal the decision - he promised to take this court case to a higher court. To appeal a decision is to ask a higher judge to reconsider the opinion.

deterring crime - to deter something means you punish one person to scare others from doing something.  So deterring crime means doing something to scare people from committing crimes.

to detain a person - to hold onto a person; to stop a person

reasonable suspicion - is you feel suspicion, you feel that someone is doing something wrong. reasonable suspicion means you have a good reason to believe a person is doing something wrong.

probable cause - this is a legal term which means that you are very very sure someone is doing something wrong or will do it.  If a person seems angry and is walking through the streets with a knife and a police officer sees this, he has probable cause to stop the person.

proactive - very active

crime-tracking - keeping count or keeping track or keeping a record of the number of crimes that happen

an incentive for more stops - an incentive means a reward for doing something.  If a baseball player is told that he will be paid double if he hits 50 home runs, that is his incentive to hit more home runs.  So cops (police officers) were rewarded for the high number of stop and frisks they made.

uniformly - if something is uniform it is the same

cumulative - all together.  If you have a cumulative number of something, you have one number of everything of a certain type that happened.

criminalize everyone - basically they are saying that if you live in a certain area, the police will just assume or guess that you are a criminal.  Or if you have dark skin, the police will assume you are a criminal.

alleged bias - it is said that this is a bias.  A bias is a prejudice.  You are biased if you like or dislike someone because of his skin color.

a monitor - someone to watch over the New York Police Department. 

to pledge - to promise.

cheered - showed approval, showed a liking for something

oversight - oversight means monitoring - when people watch over something.

compelled - forced

to reform - to change something for the better.

to implement - to implement something is to put something in place, to make something work.

delay becoming an art form - the city of Oakland has become really good at delaying - at not doing something they should be doing.  they are almost like artists at delaying.

kabuki - a type of theater in Japan.

furious - very angry.

reputation - how people feel about a person or group.  You can have a good reputation or a bad reputation.

civil liberties - freedom you should have if you are an American citizen.

best case fantasy - what is happening in LA would be what many people would like to see in New York City.  A fantasy is a dream.

beneficial - good

hostility - anger, hatred

Discussion/writing topics:

What is more important: freedom or safety?  When should freedom be sacrificed for safety?

Based on the article, do you agree with the judge or Bloomberg?

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