Melissa Harris Perry
updated 3/16/2013 2:45:32 PM ET 2013-03-16T18:45:32

A trial to determine whether New York's stop-and-frisk program violates New Yorkers' rights.

“There are three kinds of lies,” Mark Twain was fond of saying: “Lies, damned lies and statistics.” Selectively presented statistics can be used as much to distort or obscure as they can to illuminate and reveal truths. Much like a carefully cropped photo, a select set of numbers presented in isolation can be used to persuade people of their presenter’s viewpoint, even if in context those stats actually tell a very different story.

So it is with the New York City Police Department’s most recent press release on the 2012 data concerning the department’s controversial stop-and-frisk program. “Blacks were 55% of the stop subjects and were 66% of the violent crime suspects in 2012,” the release said. Gee, it sure sounds like all those critics of the NYPD who say stop-and-frisk is racially discriminatory are wrong, doesn’t it? The police are stopping a smaller percentage of African-Americans than are committing crimes, so they must be stopping them based on colorblind, legitimate suspicion, right?

Wrong. Here’s what the NYPD conveniently left out of that picture: On the forms that police officers fill out reporting why they stopped people, “fits description” was checked off in only 12% of cases (that number comes from January 2010 through June 2012 data, so it is not strictly an apples-to-apples comparison; however, it is also consistent with yearly data from prior years and 2012 data is not yet available on this). Thus “66% of violent crime suspects” is a red herring here since the vast majority of people are not being stopped because they resemble suspects in violent crimes. Moreover, suspect race is actually unknown in almost 40% of all crime complaints filed with the NYPD each year.

Expert analysis of the stop-and-frisk statistics, taken all together, tells a different story. Looking at all the data from January 2010 through June 2012, after controlling for crime, local social conditions and the concentration of police officers in an area, race is a primary explanatory factor for stops at both the individual and neighborhood level. This was also true for expert analysis of the data from 2004 through 2009.

Black and Latino New Yorkers accounted for 87% of 2012 stops (and the same percentage in 2011), but they are only 53% of the population–those numbers make it look like they are singled out because in fact they are singled out.

The NYPD also proudly touts the number of guns confiscated through its stop-and-frisk program, which the press release says was 780 in 2012. But 780 gun confiscations out of 533,042 stops actually only amounts to a recovery rate of 0.15%.  That’s one gun for every 683 people stopped.

This is lower than the rate of gun seizures at random checkpoints. It suggests both that unlawfully stopping hundreds of thousands of people  is an ineffective way to try to get guns off the street, and that seizing weapons is not really the reason people are being stopped.

Every first-year graduate student learns that correlation does not prove causality, but the NYPD routinely claims that the city’s falling crime rates are caused in part by their stop-and-frisk practices. There is not a single published study providing evidence for this claim. The truth is that no one knows what has caused the city’s drop in crime, but given the fact that only 6% of stops result in arrest and the vast majority of these are for so-called quality of life violations, it seems improbable, to say the least , that crime rates are going down because of stop and frisk.

But this unsubstantiated claim–that stop-and-frisk reduces crime–is essential for the NYPD. Without it, stop-and-frisk just looks like one big waste of public resources spent harassing black and brown citizens. The claim is meant to imply that we should be okay with the constitutional violation of thousands of people’s rights every day because it’s a price we have to pay for our safety.

That and other “lies, damned lies and statistics” the NYPD would like us to believe are meant to distract us from the outrageous reality that every year the police treat hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers as suspects rather than citizens.

But on March 18, when the Center for Constitutional Rights case, Floyd v. City of New York, goes to trial, it will be the NYPD that has to account for its behavior. A judge will hear all the evidence and see all the statistics, not just a cherry-picked few, and decide whether the stop-and-frisk program violates the rights of New Yorkers.

 Vincent Warren is Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. CCR is lead counsel in Floyd v. City of New York.

Update: Warren was a guest on Saturday’s edition of Melissa Harris-Perry, discussing this topic. See video above and below.

Video: The rape case igniting a national conversation

  1. Closed captioning of: The rape case igniting a national conversation

    >>> this morning my question. does the selection of a new pope present a chance for institutional change? plus, another installment of this week in voter suppression .

    >>> how to walk the fine line when protecting our streets. but first, the rape case igniting a national conversation and turning one small town upside down. good morning. i'm joy reid filling in for melissa harris-perry. a note of caution for parents watching this morning. we're getting started with a very sensitive story, so you may want to send children out of the room. this week two high school football stars from steubenville , ohio, went on trial after being accused of raping a 16-year-old girl from just across the ohio river , in nearby west virginia . now a crime and justice story in a small town like steubenville isn't usually the makings of national news and the alleged events on the night in question are sadly not remarkable for their rarity. we know that one in six american women is a survivor of an attempted or completed sexual assault . and we know 44% of survivors are under the age of 18. but thanks to an unusual aspect of this case, we all know now in graphic detail some of what happened in steubenville on august 11th , 2012 . the defendants and witnesses to the alleged crime documented their actions on social media . although the trial just began on wednesday, this case has already been tried in the court of public opinion with posts to twitter, youtube and instagram standing in evidence. there's also the supremesy of football in a struggling town where the high school team is in the spotlight. and then there's the question of consent. whether an incapacitated girl still maintains the capacity to be a willing participant in a sex act . the case was amplified by a crime blogger who collected and posted the tweets and then instagram photos of the defendants holding the accuser on the night of the alleged assault. a december "new york times" article caught the case of attention hacker collection ano, ma'am --

    >> she's deader than a door nail.

    >> now that student wasn't at the party and later apologized. according to police accounts, after the a night of heavy drinking the accuser woke up with no recollection of what happened to her the night before. she found the next day the same way as the rest of us by reading about it on twitter. on the morning of august 14th her parents took a flash drive loaded with the tweets, the instagram photo and a youtube video to police. a week later 17-year-old trent mays, a star quarterback on the steubenville high school football team and the standout receiver, 16-year-old ma'lik richmond were arrested and charged with rape and kidnapping. the kidnapping charges were later dropped.

    >>> and in an ok pretrial hearing, one witness testified he video taped mays assaulting the alleged victim in the backseat of a car while on route between partparties. but the witness says he deleted it from his phone. another testified to seeing richmond assault her in a basement while she was naked and unmoving on the floor. and this, the condition of the accuser, was the main question before the judge in the jefferson juvenile court this week. under an ohio law, if the victim is substantially impaired. attorneys for the defense plan to argue implied consent on the grounds that the accuser willingly drank and accompanied the boys and because she didn't affirmatively say no. the judge will have to weigh that against the prosecution's argument outlined in opening statements that an unconscious girl is incapable of affirmatively consenting to anything. with me at the table are sarlena maxwell, michael skolnick, the co-president of global don mcphearson, and erin carmone, a journalist and commentator and staff writer. first, i want to go to ft. lauderdale, florida, where we're joined by a prosecutor, the supervisor of the sex crimes and child abuse unit of florida's state attorneys office. stacy, thanks thanks so much for being here.

    >> it's my pleasure. thanks for having me.

    >> now we learned the accuser will potentially testify in the case. maybe as early as tomorrow. first of all, how difficult is it as a prosecutor to put an accuser on the stand. walk us through how you prepare an accuser to get on the stand and confront her accuser this way.

    >> you're 100% right. this is going to be a monumental day. we hear that a lot of rape victims don't want to come forward and all of their sexual history is going to be known. as a sex crimes prosecutor you not only act as the attorney. you act as the psychologist and therapist and the cheerleader in order to get them to come to court. that person has to be mentally prepared to talk to a jury and tell them what happened. in this case it's really difficult because she does not remember what happened. all the events she learned about. she has to take the stand and tell the jury, and in this case the judge because it's a juvenile case, that she was drinking, what happened and that she doesn't really remember what happened after that. so while it is difficult, it has to be done to show that they have to take a stand.

    >> and it's made more difficult because part of the issue when somebody is a victim of sexual assault , is a victim of rape, is the humiliation of having to talk about what happened to you. in this case the humiliation is compounded by the fact that there's pictures. there was video. she was already in a sense publicly humiliated. now she has to go through it again. can you tell us how social media has changed the construct of cases like this?

    >> listen, before we had video and instagram and twitter, they would have to explain to the jury what happened. if they remember, they had to talk about what took place. in this case, she didn't know what happened. she found out like everybody else . we have to come into court and to have to identify yourself, that is me in the photograph. that is me passed out. that is me not knowing what happened. it is humiliating. but it's something that has to be done. you cannot try these cases without having a victim. so she has to mentally prepare. the attorney has to prepare her. it's one day and it's one day that will hopefully get her justice. so they know when they walk into court what is going to happen. a prosecutor will prepare a person to know. they want to be able to say, you con sended. you actively participated. you voluntarily drank. they have to be mentally prepared to answer the tough questions. why, when and how.

    >> and what the defense has to do is pain a picture of a girl who consented. she consented to drinking. they have to go after her character. what is the line to somebody who admits to having had something to drink? what's the legal line for consent? whether or not she consented?

    >> here's the situation. if someone takes the stand and says, i did not drink. i didn't take any drugs. i don't know how i got in the condition, their credibility is at stake. no one is going to believe that. you have to say i drank alcohol. i did not consent. how could i consent in the incapacitated state? based on the photographs t tweets, the text messages, it was obvious to everybody that she was not capable of intelligently and voluntarily say i saying i want to participate in the sex act . and that's what you're going to see.

    >> i want to turn to the panel in studio. we want to talk about the broader implications of the case. this is so packed with implications. not just the nightmare for every parent in college. the nightmare for every girl on her own. these are people that you know. this is taking place on a college campus . you are a survivor of sexual assault . you can put yourself sort of in the place of this young woman . what are the disincentives to come forward? the humiliation. do these cause most women to not both sner.

    >> i think so. this is a high level of fear. not being believed. being blamed. implementing a victim blaming strategy. victim blaming 101. so many people kwi why did you do this or that instead the focus should be on the boys. why did they take the impaired girl from party to party? the questions aring on the wrong person in the case.

    >> enyou've written about rape in the age of social media . what is compounded here, and i'm fix sated on the idea that before she got a chance to come forward. before she made her own affirmative decision to tell her story, her story was already out there. it was basically being used as a joke. these guys thought it was funny to put these pictures out. does it encourage the behavior from these guys?

    >> it tells you about the mind set that these people have. they thought they could take a picture of it as a spectacle as opposed to something they wanted to intervene in. on one hand there's retraumatizing the victim. there have been several cases, including the 11-year-old gang raped in texas. she broke a restraining order by tweeting. she found out about her assault as well from a video and from images. a lot of these blackout situations unfortunately learn the details, but the flip side is as much as that is an incredible violation in the creation of nonconsensual pornography, you might call it, from this violation, at the same time, they function as evidence. so feminists have been talking for years about rape culture . it's the idea of people don't believe it exist. here is evidence in a legal sense and in a cultural sense.

    >> and i definitely want to talk more about that. we're going to let you weigh in on this as well. when we come back, there's so much more to talk about. when we come back, we'll talk about how talking about a story in the process of that she became


Discussion comments