Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
In a settlement with the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York City Police Department agreed to stop storing the names of people who were arrested or issued a summons after being stopped and frisked — and later cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. For years, police have used the database to target New Yorkers for criminal investigations, even though it includes people who were victims of unjustified police stops. Since 2002, the police department has conducted more than five million stops and frisks. The vast majority of those stopped have been black and Latino. According to the police department’s own reports, nearly nine out of 10 New Yorkers stopped and frisked have been innocent. We speak to Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. (Photo courtesy of Anna Tesar)
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with a major development for opponents of New York City Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk program. In a settlement announced Wednesday, the NYPD agreed to stop storing the names of people who were arrested or issued a summons after being stopped and frisked, and later cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.
For years, police have used the database to target New Yorkers for criminal investigations, even though it includes people who were victims of unjustified police stops. Since 2002, the police department has conducted over five million stops and frisks. The vast majority of those stopped have black and Latino. According to the police department’s own reports, nearly nine out of 10 New Yorkers stopped and frisked have been innocent.
Two of the people at the center of the case spoke about what happened to them in 2010 in this video produced by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which filed the case that was just settled. First we hear from Daryl Kahn, who was pulled over by two police officers in an unmarked van and issued a summons for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk. That summons was later dismissed. We also hear from Clive Lino, who was issued a summons for spitting in public and possessing an open container. His charges were also dismissed.
DARYL KAHN: If I, riding my bike, legally, on the streets of New York, can end up in a database, some kind of secret police database with my private information in it, for doing nothing wrong, then anyone in the city can end up in that database.
CLIVE LINO: I’ve been stopped so many times that now I’ve lost count. It’s a waste of my time, and it’s an embarrassment, especially when you haven’t done anything at all. I get stopped just coming out of my building. [inaudible] and intimidated, harassed. I feel—I get, like, kind of on edge now when I see officers. I feel like I’m going to be stopped, like a hostage in my own neighborhood.
DARYL KAHN: I was running an errand for my sister in Brooklyn. I was riding my bike, when I was pulled over by a couple of members of the NYPD.
CLIVE LINO: Usually I’m not doing anything when I get stopped. And it proves it, because I’m usually let go.
DARYL KAHN: They started asking me a series of questions, none of which I felt comfortable with, since I hadn’t done anything wrong. When I protested, the—it counter-escalated. More police officers were called over.
CLIVE LINO: When I get a disorderly conduct summons, I’m just usually speaking up for myself, and the officers usually don’t like that.
DARYL KAHN: I was wrenched off the bicycle I was riding. I was slammed up against the van, had my arms wrenched behind my back. I was handcuffed, had my head slammed against the van repeatedly.
CLIVE LINO: No, I’m not a bad person. I don’t have a felony. I’ve never been to prison. I’m an honest, paying-tax citizen, and I hold a job. I just finished up my master’s degree at Mercy College. So, no, I’m not a bad guy.
AMY GOODMAN: The voices of Clive Lino and Daryl Kahn, who sued the New York Police Department over its stop-and-frisk database.
In related news, a federal judge is soon expected to issue a ruling in a major case challenging the constitutionality of the overall stop-and-frisk program.
Well, for more, we’re joined by Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. The New York Police Department did not response to our request for comment.
Donna Lieberman, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Explain this settlement.
DONNA LIEBERMAN: Well, this settlement follows a couple of years of litigation, and it’s an important victory for all New Yorkers because it really closes the last loophole in the NYPD stop-and-frisk database. A law was passed in 2010, signed into law by Governor Paterson, that prohibits the police department from maintaining the names and addresses of individuals who were stopped and frisked and not arrested. But people who were arrested and cleared of criminal wrongdoing have their names kept in the police department database, even though there’s a statute that says you have—when somebody has their charges dismissed or is exculpated, the database has to—all government databases have to be cleared with regard to the incident. So, the police department was doggedly holding onto this information, so we had to go to court. And finally, they agreed to settle it, after an appeals court said that we had valid claims.
AMY GOODMAN: So explain exactly who is in this database and how many people are in it.
DONNA LIEBERMAN: Well, there were millions, five, six million people in the NYPD database. And the police department—Ray Kelly, in a letter to Pete Vallone a couple years ago, said, "And this is important for us to have, because it helps us to investigate crimes," translates into rounding up the usual suspects. And there were many who believed that in fact the proliferation of stop and frisk of hundreds of thousands, millions of New Yorkers, who were so innocent that they walked away without even a summons, was prompted by the police department’s desire to get a database of all black and brown New Yorkers. Now, that may be a little bit extreme, but who knows? And who knows really how it was being used? What we do know is that the collateral damage of this stop-and-frisk program that targeted people of color, that is totally out of control, was this police database of innocent New Yorkers, and there’s no reason why there should be a permanent police file of innocent people by virtue of stop and frisk.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, as I said, we invited the New York Police Department on. The deputy commissioner, Paul Browne, couldn’t join us, but he did send the following comment. He wrote, quote, "As to the substance of the NYCLU’s claim today, the reality is that the NYPD had been in full compliance with the relevant law since it was passed by the New York State Legislature in 2010. Accordingly, there was no practical reason to continue this litigation. In other words, it’s been a moot point for three years."
DONNA LIEBERMAN: Funny the court didn’t think so. And there are actually two laws at issue. One is the law that required the striking of personal information about people who weren’t arrested, and the other was an already existing law that required the sealing of records with regard to peoples who were—people who were arrested and who were exonerated through the court proceedings. And it was that law that the police department was not complying with. And if the police department wasn’t doing it, it’s sort of surprising that they didn’t decide to settle it a long time ago.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting. In The New York Times, a senior lawyer for the city, Celeste Koeleveld said that some of the information was already accessible to police officers through other databases. And she said, "At the end of the day, it just didn’t make sense to continue this particular litigation." So, what does that mean? You can get the information anyway?
DONNA LIEBERMAN: Well, you know, the 250s, the forms that the police are required to fill out, remain, you know, available to the police department, but they’re not an electronic database. What we had here was an electronic, easily searchable database that could pull up information in seconds. And that was the problem here. Of course, the police hold onto their, you know, records that they maintain on paper.
And, of course, by the way, the database is really, really important. It’s just not the personally identifiable information that’s important. The database tells us how many stop-and-frisks are going on and who they’re targeting. That’s how we have found out, that’s how New Yorkers know, that the program is out of control. So it’s really important to keep the information, but to keep it in an epidemiological kind of way, without personally identifiable information, so that—so that we can track this epidemic and not hurt people whose privacy rights are being impacted.
You know, stop-and-frisk hurts when it happens. And people are sometimes physically brutalized. People are subject to humiliation. Their dignity is just, you know, disrespected. And it’s a traumatic experience. The database is kind of the silent pain. It’s the silent harm of stop-and-frisk, because if by virtue of walking while black you’re put into a permanent police database of usual suspects, well, then that’s a scar that can hurt you at any time in your life.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s look at these numbers. In 2012, you have well over a half a million stops and frisks.
DONNA LIEBERMAN: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s two years after the law. This doesn’t change the number of stops and frisks. And, of course, what, something like 90 percent were totally innocent, and 55 percent were African American, 32 percent Latino. This doesn’t change the stops and frisks; it’s just how they collect data on them.
DONNA LIEBERMAN: Exactly. I mean, there are a lot of challenges going on to the NYPD stop-and-frisk program. There are three major class action lawsuits now pending in federal court: one that challenges the whole—the abuses in the stop-and-frisk program overall; one that challenges the—what’s called the Clean Halls program, which is stop-and-frisk abuse in the—in residential buildings, where landlords sign up for particular police protection, and the police have used this as a pretext to subject residents to all sorts of constitutional violations; and one that challenges a comparable program in public housing. We expect a ruling from the federal court, you know, about the constitutional violations that are part of the NYPD stop-and-frisk program any day, any week now, and that will be very, very important.
And, of course, there’s another aspect of the work that’s going on to rein in this out-of-control police department, which is the legislation that’s pending in the City Council. The City Council passed an inspector general bill, a racial profiling bill, with a supermajority on both. The mayor has promised to strong-arm one vote, so that his veto will not be overridden. And I think we’re convinced that the City Council is going to hold firm, and these historic pieces of legislation will override the veto, and that we’ll have a better framework for fair and just policing—and safe streets, by the way—in New York City at the end of the day.
AMY GOODMAN: What about Mayor Bloomberg’s response, who has said there aren’t enough stops and frisks?
DONNA LIEBERMAN: It’s hard to take that seriously. You know, even the RAND Corporation, which was commissioned to do the police department’s bidding in a report a few years ago, said that in a city this size you would expect maybe 250,000, 300,000 stop-and-frisks. You know, that was at a time when we only had like 400,000 or 500,000 going on. It’s like—it’s glib. It’s ludicrous. And you know what it says about the mayor? It says about the mayor that he just doesn’t get it, that he’s not black, he doesn’t understand the experiences of black parents who have to train their kids how to survive an encounter with the police, where they’re dissing you and you haven’t done anything wrong. I mean, he just doesn’t get it. And I’m confident that, you know, we’ll see major changes.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, his quote is quite something: "The numbers are the numbers, [and] the numbers clearly show [that] the stops are generally proportionate with suspects’ descriptions. And for years now critics have been trying to argue [that] minorities are stopped disproportionately," he said. He said, "If you look at the crime numbers, that’s just not true. The numbers don’t lie," he says, because these people who are stopped match descriptions. I mean, if you say, well, the word "black," you arrest a lot of people in New York City, or you stop and frisk them.
DONNA LIEBERMAN: Sure, but you know what? The myth about stop-and-frisk is that it’s about stopping suspicious people. About 15 percent—I think my number is right—of the stops are of people who fit a suspect description. You know, the overwhelming majority are police-initiated on the street. And when so many of the people walk away from a stop, that’s supposed to be based on suspicious activity, without so much as a summons, in an era of broken-windows policing where they would—where they arrest people and give them a ticket for an open container or spitting on the sidewalk, like Clive Lino, that just—it’s hollow. This isn’t a program about stopping criminals. It’s not a program about frisking people with guns. This is a program about stopping and frisking people who are innocent, innocent New Yorkers who commit the crime of walking while black. And last I heard, that’s not a crime.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, Donna Lieberman, for being with us. Donna Lieberman is the executive director of the New York City Civil Liberties Union. Stay with us.
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