NYPD Stop-and-Frisk portrays racism

The NYPD stop-and-frisk program enables police officers to stop and search individuals who are out in public based on ‘suspicion’ without a warrant. These officers are supposed to meet a quota and a failure to do so can result in disciplinary action. The video “The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy” shows the New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly stating that this program is a great program because the police are being proactive, and as a result the crime rate is decreasing. This program in the public’s eye appears legitimate however at the same time it creates tension surrounding the notion of race. This will be examined in this blog post by making reference to Critical Legal Studies and Critical Race Theory.

The main focus of the critical legal studies as stated by Pavlich (2011) in Law & Society Redefined “… is to explore the manner in which legal doctrine and legal education and the practices of legal institutions work to support a pervasive system of oppressive in egalitarian relations”. We discussed this in class and the idea that the law appears legitimate, even though it may not be, arose. This relates to the stop and frisk program as the aim of it is to reduce crime. Most individuals in the public would believe that having more cops on the street reduces crimes and it would result in safer communities. However, as stated on the New York Civil Liberties Unions page “No research has ever proven the effectiveness of [the program], and the small number of arrests, summonses, and guns recovered demonstrates that the practice is ineffective” (http://www.nyclu.org/node/1598). This page goes on to state that while violent crime fell 29% in New York from 2001 to 2010, many other cities had declines in crime as well without programs like this and at greater percentages, such as 59% in Los Angeles. This program may appear to work in the favour of the community yet it doesn’t as it reinforces the beliefs that certain individuals commit crimes and therefore they need to be stopped, which goes towards the next point of critical race theory.

The idea behind critical race theory is that law is responsible for producing unequal race relations. Therefore, as a result the law reproduces the notion of race. Critical race theorists would suggest that this program definitely reproduces the notion of race. In the video one of NYPD Veterans states that he had a captain who said “we’re going to go out there and we’re going to violate some rights”. This shows that even before the stop begins the officer has in his mind that he is going to target certain individuals. This causes more tension between racialized minorities and the police because the minorities feel targeted. It also produces tension within the community as the minorities will feel that it is unfair that they are subject to the majority of these stops while Whites for example were not subject to as many. In the article “An Analysis of the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy in the Context of Claims of Racial Bias” Fagan et Al. (2006) note that “In total, Blacks and Hispanics represented 51% and 33% of the stops, respectively…” and more recently according to the video more than 87% were Black or Latino and 9/10 were innocent of any wrongdoing. As Matsuda (1993) notes one should not examine “racism as isolated instances of conscious bigoted decision making or prejudiced practice, but as larger, systemic, structural, and cultural, as deeply psychological and socially ingrained” (Pavlich, 2011). Through this process society has the belief that certain races commit more crimes, and as a result certain areas are targeted more. This is presented in the article by Fagan et al. (2006) as they state that “since ‘high crime areas’ often have high concentrations of minority citizens (Massey and Denton, 1993), this logic places minority neighborhoods at risk for elevating the suspiciousness of their residents”. I believe this is a crucial point to note as not only is an individual’s race of importance when an officer is thinking of stopping them but also the location they choose as well.

All of these factors mentioned above combined together lead to the communities increased perception that minorities commit the most crimes and therefore this program is good. However, I would question how effective these stops are and research has shown that they are not doing much and are rather more of a nuisance to specific minorities. However, one could state that they are making a difference as they eliminate some percentage, even though it is small, of crime that would otherwise go undetected. Personally, I feel that by having this program in place it is reinforcing the belief that minorities commit crime and this belief is held in the majority of the communities mind and as a result this makes individuals unknowingly have distorted opinions when it comes to who commits crimes. This cycle continues and minorities are targeted more and more, and when at a stop a minority is found to have something on them this reinforces the belief that it is the minorities who cause violence and the cycle repeats as it feeds into the public’s perception.


Fagan, J., Gelman, A., Kiss, A. (2006). An analysis of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy in the context of claims of racial bias. Columbia Law School.

New York Civil Liberties Union. Racial Justice: Stop-and-Frisk Data. http://www.nyclu.org/node/1598

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario, Canada: Oxford

Tutle, Ross. (2012). “The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7rWtDMPaRD8#!



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2 responses to “NYPD Stop-and-Frisk portrays racism

  1. Excellent application of Pavlich’s account of critical race theory to this case study. Your account of the cyclical nature of the politics of suspicion is particularly effective. It brings to mind Stan Cohen’s early work on deviance amplification.

    Question: One way to interpret the confrontation on the audio recording is to through the lens of gender-as-performance (an important idea in feminist theory). Would you say that the police on the recording sound like they are performing a particular type of masculinity?

  2. jmzy

    I’m not sure if I would say it was the officers performing a particular type of masculinity. I think I would be more inclined to say it was the officer’s exercising a sense of authority and power over the young male. They see him as an easy target, and they have their badges which enable them to stop and frisk the young male. However, they abuse this authority that they have and therefore I believe they are performing more so a particular type of authority over the individual – as they are on a ‘power trip’. This abuse is something that they believe they are likely to get away with, therefore they do not see any harm in doing so. This is just one case of police abuse in relation to these stop and frisk programs, I am absolutely certain that there are many abuses of police authority that have occurred in New York.