Following settlement of a lawsuit challenging the practice known as “stop and frisk,” Philadelphia officials have agreed to have an independent party monitor police stops. City officials stood with civil rights attorneys Tuesday to announce settlement of the suit claiming the police department uses racial profiling to target pedestrians and drivers.
When Mayor Michael Nutter was elected in 2007, he won, in large part, because he promised to increase police stops of pedestrians and drives for questioning. “Stop and frisk” allows police officers with a reasonable suspicion to stop anyone; if police believe the person is a threat or carrying a weapon, they can frisk them.
Three years later, attorney Mahari Bailey and seven others filed a class-action lawsuit saying they were stopped simply because they were African American. Bailey says after enduring several humiliating stops, he decided to take action.
‘I shouldn’t have to go through that’
“I’m a father, I’m a husband, I’m an attorney, an entrepreneur,” Bailey said. “And all of that frustrates me that I had to go through what I had to go through. And I look at it on the flip side and say even if I was a convicted felon and I’m doing what’s right, I shouldn’t have to go through that now.”
Bailey says the numbers don’t lie. Out of a quarter of a million stops in 2009, more than 70 percent of those stopped were African Americans.
Nutter defends the practice.
“If there’s something that is disproportionate in any of this it is the fact that in this city, 84.5 percent of the victims of homicide are black,” he said. “And 84 percent of the perpetrators arrested are black.”
Civil rights attorney David Rudovsky represented the plaintiffs.
“There is too much crime in the city. Some of it by African Americans. On the other hand, if you look at this data and you look at the kind of reasons for these stops, and we have, most of them are not for homicides,” said Rudovsky. “They were done for no reason.”
Despite the high number of stops among black residents, Rudovsky says just very small percentage of those stops resulted in charges.
Ramsey denies racial profiling
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey denies that his officers use racial profiling.
“When you say racial profiling, you’re talking about a systemic problem. And I don’t agree there’s a systemic problem, no,” he said.
Ramsey says police officers have to get better at articulating the cause of the stop, and keeping better records. Police officers will have to carry cards reminding them of the legal reasons for a stop.
As part of the settlement, seven plaintiffs will share $115,000. An electronic database of pedestrian and driver stops will be available to the plaintiff’s lawyers to review on a quarterly basis.
And JoAnn Epps, dean of Temple Law School, will conduct an independent audit of the data.