NY Times Follows Up Front-Page Accusations of NYPD Racial Profiling With Undermining -- on Page 25

The New York Times' claims of racially motivated "stop and frisk" procedures by the NYPD are disintegrating, but casual Times readers would never know it.

Thursday's paper brought a followup by reporter Joseph Goldstein's to his accusatory front-page story of March 21 suggesting that racial profiling plays a major part of the police's "stop and frisk" crime-fighting tactics in unsafe neighborhoods. The story was criticized as overstated by the paper's liberal-leaning Public Editor.

Today's piece copped to a "more nuanced picture of police work" than asserted by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the left-wing group behind a federal lawsuit against the NYPD that's been airing in a federal district court in Manhattan this month. Yet "Some Testimony on Police Tactics Undercuts Bias Claims" was buried on page 25 of the local section of Thursday's Times. The text box: "Millions of encounters with officers, but few witnesses in court complaining."

Two cheers for Goldstein for keeping up with the story. But if this was front-page news last month, why is it only Metro section worthy now? Yesterday was certainly a busy news day, but Thursday's paper made room on its front page for a story on hungry children in Greece

One man was stopped and frisked because of his expensive red leather jacket -- similar to one that a murder suspect was wearing in a wanted poster. Another man was stopped after a woman complained to the police that he was following her. Still another was stopped by officers who had watched him jostle the door of a home, trying to get in.

Recruited by civil rights lawyers, these men and others have testified about their encounters with the police in a federal trial weighing whether the soaring number of stop-and-frisk encounters has resulted in widespread constitutional violations for hundreds of thousands of black and Hispanic men. They were chosen to give voice to the toll that the police’s use of the tactic has inflicted on an entire demographic, their lawyers say.

But over the trial’s first month, some of these men’s accounts seemed to veer away from the straightforward narrative of racial profiling -- and may have actually undermined the plaintiffs’ efforts to demonstrate that the police routinely disregard the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable police detentions.


The plaintiffs’ lawyers, who are with the Center for Constitutional Rights, are asking Judge Scheindlin to put the department’s stop-and-frisk practices under judicial oversight.

But with five million police stops recorded since 2002, it would seem that the civil rights lawyers would be able to find witnesses to present far more conclusive accounts of unconstitutional police stops -- an incongruity that lawyers for the city sought to portray during opening arguments as indicative of the case’s weakness.

Then Goldstein more or less asked, "Where's the beef?"

But the testimony offered so far has presented a more nuanced picture of police work than the one the plaintiffs had hoped to show. In several of the dozen stops described by witnesses, the police appeared to have specific reasons for suspecting that the men were engaging in criminal activity. Even a police stop of the lead plaintiff in the case, David Floyd, seems open to interpretation.