Civil Liberties Stalwarts
Challenge Mayor Bloomberg’s
Stop-and-Frisk Math

July 2, 2013 | Norman Siegel

In the wake of the City Council passing historic measures to keep the NYPD accountable and Mayor Bloomberg baffling comments about stop-and-frisk demographics, former Executive Directors of the New York and American Civil Liberties Unions, Norman Siegel and Ira Glasser, sent the following letter to all 51 Council Members.

Dear Council Member,

In response to City Council Bills 1079 and 1080, Mayor Bloomberg recently, and intemperately, said “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little,” in comments about the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk record.

Civil Rights Attorneys Challenge Mayor Bloomberg's Stop-and-Frisk MathMayor Bloomberg explained this startling assertion by saying that although 87% of those stopped by the police on the street have been black or Latino, more than 90% of murder suspects were identified as black or Latino, while only 7% of murder suspects were identified as white. Therefore, the Mayor explained, the police were stopping too few minorities and too many whites. He not only said this with a straight face, he said it with condescending arrogance, characterizing those who had been critical of the racial disparity as deficient in their understanding of math and logic. In fact (one of us taught mathematics for a living), it is the Mayor who is deficient in his understanding of math and logic; were he to have made such an assertion in a college freshman class, he would have received a failing grade. We therefore urge those of you who support Bills 1079 and 1080 not to be intimidated by the Mayor’s bluster and bullying tactics. Mathematics is on your side, not his; logic is on your side, not his; law is on your side, not his. And morality is on your side, not his. Here’s why:

1. During the Bloomberg years, the numbers of stops and frisks have soared, primarily as the result of targeting blacks and Latinos. But during those same years, the numbers of homicides have remained unchanged. It is clear, both mathematically and logically, that the two phenomena are unrelated. The Mayor speaks from ignorance, not facts. Here is a graph that shows the two phenomena during his years in office:

Civil Rights Attorneys Challenge Mayor Bloomberg's Stop-and-Frisk Math

Nor is there any relationship between the escalation of stop-and-frisks targeting minorities and the incidence of gun violence; here again, while the numbers of minorities stopped by the police soared during the Bloomberg years, the number of incidents of gun violence remained flat. Here is a graph that shows those two phenomena during his years in office:

Civil Rights Attorneys Challenge Mayor Bloomberg's Stop-and-Frisk Math

When Mayor Bloomberg claims that the 87% of the stops can be justified by reference to homicide or gun violence, and when his official spokesman claims that those opposing the racially targeted stop-and-frisk program are hampering “successful police efforts that have saved minority lives,” they are standing on evidentiary quicksand. And when Mayor Bloomberg claims, as he just did, that the NYPD should be stopping an even higher percentage of blacks and Latinos in order to better pursue murderers, he descends into a world of delusion, as well as slander against the millions of wholly innocent people stopped and harassed during his tenure.

2. Stopping millions of blacks and Latinos at random because most of those identified by witnesses as having committed murder are identified as black or Latino makes no logical sense as an effective police investigative tactic. Most NBA basketball players are black, but if the Mayor were the general manager of a basketball team, and was looking for players, would he round up blacks at random on the street? If he did, the team’s owners would quickly and justly fire him as incompetent. Most jazz musicians are black, but if the Mayor was looking for a band to play at his daughter’s wedding, would he find one by rounding up blacks at random on the street?

Civil Rights Attorneys Challenge Mayor Bloomberg's Stop-and-Frisk MathThe truth is that if a murder suspect has been identified as black, then it is utterly incompetent and inefficient, as well as illegal, to investigate that murder by stopping millions of blacks at random. If upon further inquiry of witnesses, the suspect is additionally identified as being short, or tall, heavy or thin, light-skinned or dark-skinned, over 50 or under 30, by facial hair, scars or clothing, etc., then the police are justified in stopping for questioning anyone fitting that overall description, including skin color. That is a time-tested, effective and constitutional law enforcement investigatory practice. And Bill 1080 permits that. What is ineffective police work, and unconstitutional, is singling out skin color from a range of identifying characteristics, and using that as the basis for a general program that sweeps millions of innocent black and Latino people into a dragnet of harassment. And that is what Bill 1080 prohibits. For Mayor Bloomberg to oppose that is unjust, incompetent and outrageous.

3. Finally, the Mayor’s claim that the racially-targeted stops are somehow part of homicide investigations is wholly contradicted by the NYPD’s own records, which do not indicate that as a reason for the stops. Nor is there any evidence that the questions police ask of those they stop have any relationship to any particular homicide. And perhaps the Mayor should be asked how many homicides have been solved, or homicide arrests been made, as the result of the millions of stops of blacks and Latinos during his tenure.

Mayor Bloomberg likes to bluster and bully people when both the facts and the law are against him, as they are here. The only way to deal with a street bully is to fight back. In this case, it means not being intimidated by his bullying and overriding any veto he may make in reaction to the bills you have passed. You, not he, have the facts, the law and morality on your side. You also have principles of effective law enforcement on your side. We commend you and urge you to stay the course.

Should you find it useful to discuss any of the above in greater detail, we are available to do so.


s/Norman Siegel______________                  s/Ira Glasser______________
Norman Siegel                                                Ira Glasser
Civil Rights Attorney                                      Former Exec. Dir., ALCU (1978-2001)
Former Exec. Dir., NYCLU (1985-2000)