Friday, November 8, 2013

Racial profiling deniers remove federal judge from key court case

Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in Floyd v. City of New York that the City's policy of performing random stops and interrogations was a violation of the Eighth Amendment guarantee of Due Process.This police policy produced nearly 600,000 stops in New York City in 2008. The vast majority of the people stopped were people of color.

Community leaders in NYC and elsewhere hailed the ruling as a necessary antidote to the all-out war on minorities that police had been carrying out for years. Statistics kept by the police themselves showed that 80% of the stops were of Hispanics and African-Americans, even though whites represent 45% of the population of the city.

The most telling statistic pointing toward racial profiling is that only 5% of stops led to arrests. This fact indicates that police methods of identifying likely criminals were poor. A study conducted by Jeffrey Fagan tended to support the use of racial profiling by police. 

Another study, conducted by the conservative RAND Corporation, found that blacks were stopped less frequently than they were represented in crime-suspect descriptions. RAND used reports of violent crimes for this comparison, however, even though only 50% of those reports mention the race of the suspect. This tortured logic demonstrates that you can prove anything with statistics if your ethical standards are low enough. Scheindlin rejected the conclusions drawn by RAND.

Many liberals and minority advocates praised Scheindlin's ruling. The Republican Mayor of NYC and Chief of Police Kelly did not. They promised to appeal the ruling rather than work within the guidelines established by Judge Scheindlin to improve community relations with police. 

On October 31, three appeals court judges decided to remove Scheindlin from the case granted a new trial to the City. The ruling was based on the content of several news articles, not written by Scheindlin, but written about Scheindlin by her opponents in the case. These articles were edited to make it appear that Scheindlin had behaved unethically. The appeals court judges also pretended that Scheindlin somehow unethically maneuvered to take Floyd but this was blatantly untrue. The Federal Court routinely assigns similar cases to the same judge to take advantage of prior experience.

This case has become yet another issue that divides the country along political lines. The Conservative echo chamber has attacked a federal court for bias. Heather MacDonald, who works for the conservative Manhattan Institute accuses Scheindlin of "sheer willful ignorance", "patent ignorance of policing", and of being "clueless"--this published by a think tank that receives financing from the Koch brothers to deny global warming.  

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