Right-Wing Media Parrot Claims In Dishonest Ad On New York Stop-And-Frisk Bill

Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

NY PostRight-wing media are repeating the wildly inaccurate claims of a political advertisement opposing a new police reform bill under consideration in New York City that attempts to bring the city's stop-and-frisk policy into constitutional compliance.

The captains union for the New York Police Department (NYPD) is currently promoting a ludicrous ad in opposition to the proposed Community Safety Act of the City Council of the City of New York. Upon release, the ad was immediately used as the June 19 front page of the New York Post, which dedicated an "exclusive" to the union's false claims that the police reform bill would "ban cops from identifying a suspect's age, gender, color or disability."

In fact, this bill would re-affirm the existing ban on illegal racial profiling by police, expand the class of protected groups, and provide previously unavailable avenues to litigation for civil rights abuses in state court. What the bill by its own terms explicitly would not do - contrary to the ad's depiction of a blindfolded police officer - is prohibit police from continuing to use race or any of the other protected group characteristics as part of a suspect's description. Rather, race and these other criteria cannot be the sole "determinative" factor proffered for a police stop of an individual, consistent with existing law. Absent other reasonable suspicion for the encounter, utilizing race alone as the reason for the police stop has long been illegal.

Following in the footsteps of the New York Post and CNN, however, right-wing media seemingly have not bothered to read the bill - or otherwise research the issue - and instead continue to base their entire analysis on the false ad.

Incorrectly describing the bill's rationale to be "identifying people by their identifying marks is offensive," the National Review Online quoted the Post's write-up of the ad and sarcastically wondered:

So, if a white male in his mid-thirties with a beard and a limp is wanted on suspicion of a crime, the police will be unable to broadcast that fact. Instead, they would have to say that they're looking for a person of undefined age, race, ability, and pogonic status -- and then describe his clothes. In a city of 7 million people, this will presumably work out perfectly, and it certainly won't lead to an increase in the frisking that the bill aims to reduce.

Fox News also repeated this blatant lie as straight news.

On his June 20 show, Fox News host Sean Hannity brought on a former police officer to further the false claims made in the captains union's ad, both of whom refused to answer another guest's question about whether they had actually read the bill. Even Fox News senior legal analyst Andrew Napolitano took the ad's misinformation at face value without further research, agreeing with the sentiments of Fox News hosts Gretchen Carlson and Brian Kilmeade that this is a "good time to be a criminal" because the "new bill [will] block cops from describing suspects because it might offend them." From the June 20 edition of Fox & Friends:

Under certain circumstances, the ability of police to briefly stop, question, and frisk people on the street with reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is about to be committed - and in the case of the frisk, that the suspect is armed and dangerous - has been held to be constitutional since 1968. The practice has been utilized by multiple police departments since then, none more aggressively than the NYPD.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that state law, civil rights law, internal policies, and now the proposed Community Safety Act prohibit using race as the determinative factor for stop-and-frisk as opposed to reasonable suspicion, multiple analyses of the practice show this sort of illegal profiling has been widely utilized by the NYPD. In fact, the current class action lawsuit alleging stop-and-frisk has devolved into unconstitutional racial profiling is a direct result of a previous similar lawsuit that the NYPD chose to settle in 2003 rather than contest. It was the NYPD's documented failure to live up to the terms of this settlement and instead continue to encourage a policy that disproportionately stopped and frisked New Yorkers of color without the required reasonable suspicion that not only led to the class action lawsuit, Floyd v. City of New York, but has also led to the proposed Community Safety Act.

If stop-and-frisk as currently practiced by the NYPD is effective at reducing crime - and experts have repeatedly shown it is not - the real debate is whether that excuses what might be its intolerable or even unconstitutional effects on communities of color. If it is not effective, then right-wing media need to reexamine their real rationale for the policy.

Either way, an honest discussion on this topic cannot be had if right-wing media and CNN refuse to do the basic research - such as reading police reform bills - that such reflection requires. 

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