MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now, we have an update on a controversial issue we've talked about before on this program. On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that a part of the New York City Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy is unconstitutional. Under the policy, New York Police have been stopping, questioning and searching people if they suspect they are carrying weapons or drugs.
City officials, up to and including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have defended this practice, saying it has contributed to a steep drop in New York's crime rate and has made the city safer for everyone. Critics have argued it disproportionately targets and humiliates young black and Latino men. Last year, residents of several buildings in The Bronx sued the NYPD for making what they called widespread and unlawful stops. That results from the fact that, in the early 1990s, New York City began routinely conducting stops in high crime areas in The Bronx on suspicion of trespassing.
Now, a federal judge has ruled that officers can no longer make stops like these around these private apartment buildings, unless they have a, quote, "reasonable suspicion of crime." We wanted to know more about what this ruling might mean for the policy, so we've called on Gloria J. Browne-Marshall. She is an author and associate professor in the department of law, police science and criminal justice administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
GLORIA J. BROWNE-MARSHALL: Thank you.
MARTIN: Tell me about the significance of this ruling. I mean, on the face of it, it seems rather limited, but is it significant in how people are thinking about this policy at the moment?
BROWNE-MARSHALL: I think it's very significant because the communities have been wrestling with this issue of stop-and-frisk for over 10 years and, of course, it has disproportionately affected the black and Latino communities and this idea of having not just the protests in the streets, but at the same time, a legal type of remedy is something that not only had other communities outside of New York discussing, but now we see that we've had a success and that movement is very positive in this struggle to bring our cities into realm with what we are to expect from police departments, even in a time of high gun violence.
MARTIN: What exactly did the judge object to? What exactly did he find unconstitutional?
BROWNE-MARSHALL: Well, first and foremost, it is called Operation Clean Halls and what it does is give police departments - in this case, NYPD - the authority to go into private buildings and look for people who are loitering there.
Now, under Terry versus Ohio in 1968, police are given the authority to conduct stops-and-frisks if there is imminent danger to the officer or to the public. Here, now we've drifted down to a level of - we're no longer looking for guns. We're no longer looking at imminent danger. We're just saying, is this person loitering in a private facility? And, to the point where - are they loitering outside? Loitering and being arrested for stop-and-frisk is not what Terry versus Ohio allowed and so that issue right there raises it to the level of an unconstitutional stop, detaining of the person and the actual touching of the person by a police department.
MARTIN: Well, just one second here. First of all, I misspoke that the judge was a she, not a he and I just want to quote from the judge's ruling here. She writes, quote, "for those of us who do not fear being stopped as we approach or leave our own homes or those of our friends and families, it's difficult to believe that residents of one of our boroughs live under such a threat." I mean, she made the argument that this subjects people to an unwarranted invasion of privacy.
As we mentioned, briefly, professor, if you would - as we mentioned, the court's ruling only applies to New York's policy relating to those particular buildings in The Bronx. What do you think is next, though?
BROWNE-MARSHALL: Well, there are three lawsuits altogether, so this is one and that's why it is pivotal in progress being made to stop these ongoing stop-and-frisk cases. We have over 600,000 cases of stop-and-frisk in New York City in 2011 alone and those are 84 percent black and Latinos who are being stopped, males and females, and so Judge Shira Scheindlin is saying it's one thing for police to look for guns. We know that's a major issue. It's another thing to constantly stop black and Latino residents, people who live there, and then charge them with trespassing in or about their own buildings.
MARTIN: Gloria J. Browne-Marshall is an author and she's associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and we caught up with her in Delaware.
Professor, thank you so much for joining us.
BROWNE-MARSHALL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.