More Obama Administration Civil Liberties Neglect

In New York, the cops are getting frisky with minorities (suspect classes under the equal protection clause):

From 2004 through 2009, in a policy that has gotten completely out of control, New York City police officers stopped people on the street and checked them out nearly three million times, frisking and otherwise humiliating many of them.

Upward of 90 percent of the people stopped are completely innocent of any wrongdoing. And yet the New York Police Department is compounding this intolerable indignity by compiling an enormous and permanent computerized database of these encounters between innocent New Yorkers and the police.

Not only are most of the people innocent, but a vast majority are either black or Hispanic. There is no defense for this policy. It’s a gruesome, racist practice that should offend all New Yorkers, and it should cease.

Police Department statistics show that 2,798,461 stops were made in that six-year period. In 2,467,150 of those instances, the people stopped had done nothing wrong. That’s 88.2 percent of all stops over six years. Black people were stopped during that period a staggering 1,444,559 times. Hispanics accounted for 843,817 of the stops and whites 287,218.
“They have been collecting the names and all sorts of other information about everybody who is stopped and frisked on the streets,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the department’s stop-and-frisk policy and its compiling of data on people who are innocent. “This is a massive database of innocent, overwhelmingly black and Latino people,” she said.

Bob Herbert is right, it is “a gruesome, racist practice”. Thank god we have a Constitutional law scholar President, expert in civil rights and dedicated to protecting the liberties afforded by them. This is a perfect situation for the President’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board!

Oh, wait……..

When President Bush two years ago failed to name members to a federal board to monitor the protection of civil liberties, Democrats and activist groups were duly outraged, seeing it as one more example of his administration’s indifference to the subject.

But more than a year into a new presidency, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board—created by Congress in 2007—remains as much a cipher under Barack Obama as it was under George W. Bush. The White House has yet to nominate a single person to sit on the five-person board. It has no members, no staff, and no office.
All the letters noted there would be no shortage of issues for a civil-liberties oversight board to investigate, ranging from the impact of Patriot Act reauthorization proposals to the administration’s plans to install body scanners and other new security measures at airports. And then there’s the mounting controversies over new technologies, such as the Justice Department’s expanding collection of cell-phone tracking data gathered surreptitiously.

But when she recently raised the issue of the vacant board with Denis McDonough, one of the president’s top national-security advisers, Harman said the response she got back was “nothing,” just “we’re working on it.”
But others are getting skeptical. According to Franklin, nobody at any of the civil-liberties groups that signed off on this week’s letter is aware of anybody even being contacted by White House personnel about accepting such a job. Another leading civil-liberties activist (who asked not to be identified because of political sensitivities) said he suspects top White House officials like chief of staff Rahm Emanuel are reluctant to staff a board that can only give it political grief.

Yeah, Presidents Emanuel and Obama sure wouldn’t want any entity with subpoena power out there actually trying to protect the citizenry from civil rights abuses; that would be totally inconvenient. I’m sure they will continue working on appropriately staffing the board at the current break neck pace….

Who could have ever suspected that Obama was more interested in political expediency than actually protecting silly little things like Constitutional civil rights?

(Graphic courtesy of Sunita’s Blog)

42 replies
      • DWBartoo says:

        Thank you, bmaz, for this revealing post.

        Your link is also appreciated, for it confirms the suspicions that have accompanied me since first I heard of the murder, for such it was and is, and the conspiracy to cover it up or obscure the truth is far too typical of too many cynical police forces …

        The police forces in this nation seriously need to consider who or what it is that they actually serve.

        The rest of us must seriously ponder what the answers to those two questions actually are. That will require that we insist upon such answers as the police forces may decide to share with us … and then the police forces need to be clearly put on notice that if the answers are unsatisfactory, or “hedged”, then the police must expect far more serious civilian oversight AND control.

        Well, I can wish … seeing as “hope” is a useless currency in terms of the entrenched “powers that be” whatever they damn please.


  1. orionATL says:

    it’s a matter of,

    and a clear indication of,

    america becoming more and more authoritarian under impetus from popular culture (teevee and moovies), right-wing politicians, and excessively police-tolerant judges.

    one matter that needs to be set straight is this:

    a) police agree to do a difficult and very occasionally a dangerous job.

    b) by doing that job, our police are in no way entitled, due to the difficulties and dangers they face, to misuse their conferred authority in any way.

    they may not, for example, mistreat henry louis gates because he refuses to be subservient.

    there are many steps our society needs to take to reverse growing american authoritarianism,

    but none is as important as putting the police back
    in their box by making it clear to each rookie officer that he or she serves the commumity, not themselves or “the force”.

    and that serving the community means police are obligated to personally absorb the risks in their job.

    police must be re-trained to accept that they will be under threat but that being under threat, say from petroling a certain blighted and benighted community, does not confer upon them some inherent rigjt to use their community-confered authority to harass, intimidate, threaten, or harm community members.

    they may not

  2. behindthefall says:

    by making it clear to each rookie officer

    … and not just the rookies, either. It all rolls downhill. But what would you have to do to change the outlook of senior officers? Really hard.

  3. Peterr says:

    But more than a year into a new presidency, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board—created by Congress in 2007—remains as much a cipher under Barack Obama as it was under George W. Bush. The White House has yet to nominate a single person to sit on the five-person board. It has no members, no staff, and no office.

    WH: “Can’t have any disruptive appointments while we’re working on health care, you know. Gotta keep our powder dry.”

  4. Jim White says:

    But, if you’re innocent you have nothing to hide, right? /snark

    Thanks for bringing together a truly disheartening set of facts, bmaz.

    [PS for those who want to read the rest of Herbert’s column, the link is here.]

  5. mattcarmody says:

    And while we’re at it about foot-dragging by this administration, where’s Dawn Johnsen?

    The Stop and Frisk procedures (UF-250) are used as a pretense to justify stopping anyone and serve to, at the very least, document the interaction between cop and citizen. Theoretically the person stopped can decline to give identifying information since s/he isn’t presumed guilty of anything. However, since the bad old days of Giuliani/Bratton (commissioner)/Anemone (Chief of Department), anyone stopped who cannot produce government-sanctioned identification is liable to be brought into a precinct to be further identified to make sure there aren’t any warrants outstanding against said person. I say this as a retired NYPD captain.

    What this translates to is anyone walking down the street, doing absolutely nothing wrong, can be stopped by the police for no good reason and upon failure to properly identify oneself be brought to a police facility to be forced to identify oneself thereby raising a sticky question under the 4th amendment of whether this is a situation whereby the person can refuse to be brought in without being placed under arrest. Would a reasonable person actually have the sense that s/he could just walk away in this situation? IOW don’t leave the house without your papers or you might not make that date you had set up.

    While this seemed like a good idea at the time to get a grip on what was seen as a city out of control, what it became is a tool to intimidate and harass “the usual suspects.”

    • DWBartoo says:

      Dawn Johnsen, matt, is precisely where the Obama “administration” want her to be.



  6. mattcarmody says:

    The Stop and Frisk procedures were around long before Giuliani became mayor but the aggressive use of forcing people to show a government-approved ID or be brought in for further identification flourished under his administration.

    • klynn says:

      I go for walks and all kinds of activities without ID.

      Jeepers. That’s what I thought freedom was all about.

      • DWBartoo says:

        I wonder if those kinds of “freedoms” are the freedoms the Muslim people are said to hate us for?


      • mattcarmody says:

        But are you a member of a minority group with whom the police might want to become acquainted?

        • DWBartoo says:

          I wonder what minority officers think when “their” people are being … um … targeted?

          Just from the psychological perspective, of course …


          • mattcarmody says:

            Here’s an anecdote from when I was a new sergeant in Harlem before Giuliani was mayor.

            I was the desk officer and a young black officer brought in a black male who he had arrested for disorderly conduct, in this case, failing to move off the steps of a building when the cop told him to. I took the information the cop gave me on the subject and started entering it into the command log and then stopped. I called the officer to the desk and asked him about the arrest and if it had been verified on the street by the patrol supervisor. He said it hadn’t. I then asked him to tell me again why he arrested the man and he told me because the man refused to move from in front of the building. I then asked him to look at the paperwork and tell me the man’s address and to the look at the place of arrest. Voila! One and the same.

            The arrest was voided and I apologized and had the officer do the same in addition to getting the man a ride home.

            My point is that some minority officers have no trouble harassing members of the community and it is the responsibility of the supervisors to set the tone. Of course when the Chief of Department modifies the uniform to include a Sam Brown belt for himself so that he looks like Gen. Patton the message is somewhat mixed.

            • DWBartoo says:

              Matt, I sincerely thank you for that anecdote.

              As you are obviously far more knowledgeable than I, what suggestions might you have as regards the sense of whom it is that the average officer might think or believe they are serving?

              If things, especially, the economy and the rule of law, continue to deteriorate, then will police forces align themselves with the power structure or, ultimately, with the people? That is the “divide” I think we are approaching.

              Have you any thoughts, Matt, which you might be willing to share regarding these further concerns of mine?


              • macaquerman says:

                The police in NYC, as far as I can tell, think that they serve the decent people of NYC.

        • BoxTurtle says:

          That’s a temporary limitation. Once the cops realize there are caucausian moslems or that have last names like “Alverez”, then nobody is safe.

          Boxturtle (Lets hope they don’t figure out there are White illegal immigrants, too)

      • BoxTurtle says:

        I go for walks and all kinds of activities without ID

        “not anymore” – Inspector Clouseau

        The day will come when we’ll all be like olympic staffers, with a massive number of different colored photo id’s hung aroud our necks.

        “I’m sorry, but your license to walk on public streets is lacking an after dark endorsement. And you have to have a special permit for those orange socks. You’ll have to come with us in the Black Van”

        Boxturtle (Going to start a new business making ID holders)

    • bmaz says:

      Precisely. It is a perfectly legal and reasonable tactic specifically sanctioned since Terry v. Ohio, and its companion case, Sibron v. NY, in the late 60s. But the Terry court demanded that there be sufficient reasonable suspicion based upon specific and articulable facts. What is now going on in NYC is the complete antithesis of reasonable suspicion based upon specific and articulable facts.

  7. BoxTurtle says:

    I suppose going out and talking to the citizens is better than making them report to the police station monthly.

    Boxturtle (New offense: Breathing while non-white)

    • DWBartoo says:

      Now Turtle, you’ve gone and taken the wind right out of their new sails.

      Doggone it! The element of surprise is gone.

      How are they gonna sell monthly check-ins, now?

      Have to make it universal, so that it is fair and just.

      Dang!!! Double dang, dang!!


  8. mattcarmody says:

    Probably would be if the talks were mutually recognized as such instead of thinly veiled tools of repression.

  9. GregB says:

    Funny that you don’t hear tea-partiers lamenting the intrusiveness of this big government policy.

    • BoxTurtle says:

      Sarah hasn’t told them to.

      Boxturtle (What, you thought they hand minds of their own? That they USE?!?)

  10. TarheelDem says:

    Yeah, Presidents Emanuel and Obama sure wouldn’t want any entity with subpoena power out there actually trying to protect the citizenry from civil rights abuses

    Then they would have to detail the sorry history of the CPD. Mayor Daley wouldn’t like that.

  11. onitgoes says:

    sigh. I read Bob Herbert’s editorial yesterday and was totally unsurprised, more’s the pity. Well, it’s all been said before, hasn’t it? Obummer’s a big old dud and a huge bummer, and gets to looking more & more like W, the lesser, but with a better ability to speechify.

    One would *think* that BHO, having the gorgeous wife & children he does, would have some sense of decency… but no. Not gonna happen. Guess it’s yet another case of: I got mine; eff the rest of you.

    I’m with Boxturtle: going into the business of making ID holders.

    Hold on to your hats, my friends, I’m afraid this ride’s about to get even bumpier. Ugh, disgusting. And Dawn Johnson: yeah, we’re never, evah gonna see her get in, is my prediction.

  12. jedimsnbcko19 says:

    In 2012 we must make sure the new Democratic President makes it a point to staff the Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

  13. temptingfate says:

    Civil Liberties probably wasn’t a campaign promise. Certainly not since he pushed reauthorization of the Patriot Act. This looks like one of those problems that Obama can run on in “Change That You can Believe In” version 2.0.

    Gotta plan these strategies early.

  14. prostratedragon says:

    bmaz, thanks for giving this portion of the banality* of the day more exposure.

    *In the Hannah Arendt sense. I can hear the bland assurances from miles and days away …

  15. Hugh says:

    Bob Herbert is the best editorial writer the Times has. There is “sometimes I’m with you but mostly I’m with the Establishment” Krugman and after him it’s mostly blather and wall to wall neocons.

    I can only say that if we view Obama as a Blue Dog status quo corporatist, the jarring disconnects between his rhetoric and his actions, or lack of them as here, become both comprehensible and predictable.

  16. Ann in AZ says:

    David Dayen has a fresh cross-post up and running: Obama, Democratic Leaders Want A Way Forward On Health Care; Will The Rank And File Follow?

  17. Adams says:

    Good post. Gotta keep hammerin’ on the fascist plank of the Democrat party.

    Dawn Johnsen will get confirmed as soon as she agrees to have the Rahm-in-a-chip brain implant.

    I’m all for snark. It may be all we have left. But the picture is a really cheap shot.

    Keep up the good work. drip…..drip….drip

  18. robspierre says:

    Stopping people is harassment. Keeping careful records is something worse. My suspicion would be that NYPD is trying to build a database that lets them track randomly chosen people’s movements. Perhaps they have some notion of trying to correlate it with unsolved crimes or doing something predictive. Either way, it is not a legitimate use of police power. It is instead an arbitrary power grab.

    People need to realize that disproportionate targeting of minorities is not the real issue here. Like the death of the proverbial canary in the coal mine, a police obsession with those who are different in some arbitrary way is only a symptom of the underlying condition.

    If anyone here really needs an example of just how malleable a police definition of “different” can be and just how little race or racism really has to do with it, consider this. I am a six-foot-plus American of Scandinavian descent. Nobody is any “whiter” than I am. Yet I have been stopped and intimidated by “white” police a number of times over the years.

    In one case, years ago in my grad student days, I was stopped in broad daylight right after I got off a bus, held at gunpoint, frisked, and my ID taken. While one officer kept a .357 Magnum pointed at me, the other asked me repeatedly if I was the two little black kids who had reportedly been throwing stuff off a nearby overpass and if I, in fact, knew any black people.

    Just a couple of years back, I was driving a filthy, rusty old American car to work and was pulled over for no obviousreason. The young officer approached the car belligerently, loudly telling me to keep my hands in sight. But his manner abruptly changed when he ordered me to roll down my grimey window: given the state of the car, he wasn’t expecting someone my age, complete with suit, tie, and leather attache case. I was suddenly no longer the low-life, sorking-class, possibly immigrant victim that expected. Suddenly the officer didn’t want ID or anything. He just wanted to tell me that one of my tail lights was going out intermittently. Just a courtesy, mind you. “Sir” this and “Sir” that.

    So, in my experience, these stop and frisk practices are nothing but bullying under color of law. Our police forces swagger and push people around to remind them who has the power and who doesn’t. You don’t have to be black or Hispanic to face this kind of harassment. At one time, perhaps, pale skin and a suit could make a guy like me look like more trouble than I was worth. But no longer, I fear. But now, in the Patriot Act era, bullying is national policy.

    • DWBartoo says:

      And consider, robspierre, that these “encounters” of the “remind-ment” sort rarely make it before a judge.

      Officially, the Courts that should be concerned about the implications, about the “consequences”, of this category of police “action”, don’t even, apparently, know anything is going on.

      I wonder how much that is the result of the people subject to the “action” simply not being able to afford the price of admission, that is, meaningful access to justice?


  19. timbo says:

    Luckily we’re still able to discuss this issue…but for how long will that last? I suspect that when there is a groundswell of interest in returning the direction of our government to the Bill of Rights will be just about the time that the political assassinations and mysterious disappearance really get into full swing.

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