The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is, for all practical purposes, dead and buried on the streets of New York City. Police are doing things today to the citizenry there that they wouldn’t have dared to even think about doing only a few years ago.
One no longer enjoys the basic fundamental constitutional right of personal security against unreasonable searches and seizures while simply walking down the street. New York City Police officers are randomly searching people without reasonable suspicion or probable cause that a crime has been committed or that a subject has committed a crime.
I’m not talking about people at airports boarding airplanes that might have bombs or guns in their handbags. This is about innocent pedestrians taking their dirty clothes to the Laundromat or returning home from the grocery store.
“I was coming home from the Laundromat and I was stopped by the police officer. Asking me, ‘Let me see your ID. ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Do you live around here?,” says Chris Bilal, a black man who was simply walking down the street in his Brooklyn neighborhood when he was stopped by a police officer for no reason whatsoever.
The cop then rummaged through Bilal’s bag of freshly cleaned and folded laundry to see if he was carrying anything illegal. He wasn’t. “They were searching for drugs. The funny thing was that it was a mesh laundry bag. I’m not sure what I could hide,” Bilal said.
Since arriving in the city a little over a year ago, he’s been repeatedly stopped on the street, asked what he’s doing, where he’s going, and often being frisked. “I feel guilty all the time,” he explained. “I feel like I’m being watched and targeted all the time.”
Bilal is the frequent victim of the NYPD’s policy of Stop, Question and Frisk, in which officers randomly stop a person to determine if they are up to any wrongdoing or possess weapons and contraband items. In 2011, the New York City Police Department stopped 685,724 people wholly without probable cause of whom an overwhelming 88 percent were deemed innocent.
Statists who justify an American police state say the policy is an effective tool for deterring crime. “Stop and Frisks are a necessary evil,” said Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, an NYPD union. “A lot of times it’s hard for the general public to understand.”
Yes, I suppose it is a very effective policy for deterring crime. Random searches of citizens’ homes would be equally effective but the only problem with that -- it blatantly violates the Fourth Amendment:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
With policies like this it is only a matter of time before random searches of persons and places are the rule and the Fourth Amendment is just a distant memory of a time when people were actually free in America.
“It’s not ‘Stop and Frisk’ that’s happening, and it’s not in that order,” said Jose Lopez, who works as a community outreach leader for Make the Road NY, a Brooklyn-based community advocacy group. “We are not getting stopped, questioned and frisked. We are getting searched. There’s a difference… Every time I get stopped, I’m not getting questioned first. I’m usually stopped, then searched. I’m usually questioned after they find nothing.”
So much for the Fourth Amendment in New York City: RIP