As the choir of Bethany Baptist Church in Harlem sang to a packed crowd of Sunday morning worshipers, the Rev. Kris Erskine waited in the narrow church vestibule to greet his invited speaker, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
Stringer was there to urge change in a Police Department policy that has stirred growing fury — and not merely in the city’s black and brown communities.
That policy is called stop-and-frisk.
A small table at the church’s entrance gave an inkling of the tempest. Next to voter registration forms from the NAACP was a stack of palm cards titled: “What to Do If You’re Stopped by the Police.”
“I heard from my church members all the time about their sons being grabbed, thrown on the ground and searched for no reason,” Erskine said. “Something has to be done about this.”
Stringer has been visiting black churches for weeks now. Everywhere he goes, he hears the same plea for change. As he spoke at Bethany about the abuses of stop-and-frisk, the building resounded with shouts of “Amen.”
Last year, the NYPD recorded an astounding 684,000 stop-and-frisk encounters with the public. Even under the hard-fisted Giuliani administration, that number was less than 100,000.
But stop-and-frisk incidents have skyrocketed more than sixfold under Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly — and 87% of those stopped are black or Hispanic.
The Police Department defends stop-and-frisk as a valuable tool, one that helps confiscate illegal guns and save lives.
The statistics, on the other hand, show it to be at best a crude tool, one that is mangling relations between the police and the communities they serve.
Only one in every 650 stops has resulted in the confiscation of a gun, according to several years of NYPD records released to the New York Civil Liberties Union. That’s less than two-tenths of 1%.
In 88% of the cases, the people stopped were innocent. Only 6% of stops result in any kind of arrest, and many of those are for misdemeanor marijuana possession.
Even middle- and upper-class New Yorkers have started to question such an unproductive policy.
All 12 community boards in Manhattan — from Battery Park and Greenwich Village to Washington Heights — have approved a resolution in recent weeks calling for reform.
The vote at Community Board 6 on the East Side was unanimous.
“Our residents are supportive of the NYPD,” board Chairman Mark Thompson told me, but we’ve concluded it (stop-and-frisk) is really not good. This needs to be resolved so people who are innocent are not being stopped.”
The racial disparities are especially glaring. Young black men, for instance, are only 7% of the city’s population, but they represented 41% of all the stops by the police in 2010.
That year, there were 27,000 stops in the 75th Precinct in East New York, Brooklyn — an average of more than 500 a week. Meanwhile, in the largely white 66th Precinct in Borough Park, Brooklyn, with a bigger population than East New York’s, there were just 53 stops a week.
“This policy has become a foot on the neck of our children,” said Sheila Rule, a former New York Times reporter who heads Think Outside the Cell Foundation, a prison reform group.
An interracial coalition of city leaders has now concluded that if Bloomberg and Kelly won’t budge, new laws will have to be passed. Led by Stringer and Brooklyn City Councilman Jumaane Williams, they will introduce legislation Wednesday to reform stop-and-frisk.