The Daily Outrage

The CCR blog

Governor Hochul’s Subway Plan is Subterranean Stop and Frisk

A few months ago, I gathered with colleagues and allies to mark the 10th anniversary of the landmark stop-and-frisk ruling, which held New York City liable for a pattern of unconstitutional stops and racial profiling by the NYPD. My organization had brought the class action lawsuit that challenged stop and frisk on behalf of Black and Latinx New Yorkers. The convening was a moment to celebrate but also to recommit to the fight against overpolicing. 

Winning in court against the NYPD was one thing; getting it to comply with the ruling is another. While the overall number of reported stops has decreased dramatically since 2013, severe racial disparities have persisted. For example, the court-appointed monitor reported last year that 97 percent of the people stopped by the NYPD’s revamped anti-crime units, the Neighborhood Safety Teams, were Black or Hispanic. 

Now comes Hochul’s 5-part subway plan, a triumphant  leap in precisely the wrong direction. The plan mirrors stop and frisk, in both its particulars and its cynical, feckless approach to crime. It sacrifices the rights, wellbeing, and safety of marginalized New Yorkers so that a select subset of others might feel safer and the poll numbers of politicians might rise. What’s worse is that the governor is throwing guns at what everyone who actually rides the subway knows is a manifestation of people experiencing homelessness or mental health episodes. Why fund services when you can just deploy the military?

Perhaps most alarmingly, Hochul’s plan calls for increased bag checks on the subway. Some of these searches will be conducted by the 1000 State Police and National Guard members that Hochul has deployed. She acknowledges that the few high-profile crimes that prompted her intervention are not statistically significant but “psychologically significant.” Her stated goal is to make people “feel safe.” I doubt the presence of armed military in fatigues will make many New Yorkers feel safer. I can assure you that New Yorkers searched by these soldiers will feel much less safe. In fact it will feel like a war zone, and no one is safe in a war zone. 

If Hochul’s plan looks bad on paper; it will be much worse in practice. With recent history as our guide, we don’t have to guess what will happen. People stopped by the expanded show of force in the subway will be disproportionately Black and Latinx, many will be stopped repeatedly and face arrest, and the most heavily policed stations will be in the most heavily policed neighborhoods. This is subterranean stop and frisk. 

Police stops aren’t minor nuisances that can be shaken off; they are degrading experiences that can alter lives. Our 2012 report, which uses interviews with New Yorkers to detail the human impact of stop and frisk, is still relevant. For some, police stops led to brutality, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. For all, stops were humiliating experiences apt to spawn lingering fear, anger, and sorrow. Some of the harms are quantifiable: young men in New York who have had more encounters with the police are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, men with a high number of police stops are three times more likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and students with heavy exposure to stop and frisk are more likely to drop out of school. 

Police stops bring not only emotional damage but also material hardships. They can lead to arrests, often unjust, which, in turn, may prevent people from finding or keeping a job, and from accessing public housing, a bed in a shelter, student loans, and other needed services and benefits. For immigrants, police stops can lead to loss of legal status and deportation.

Speaking of material hardships, Hochul seeks to expand judicial discretion to ban people with certain criminal convictions from public transit. Even leaving aside the prospect of wrongful convictions, this is a cruel punishment that deprives people, especially those in low-income communities, of what for them could be an essential means of securing employment, housing, and support services. 

Not least, Hochul’s plan also increases the role of police in responses to mental health crises, never mind their lack of requisite expertise. This raises the risk of police violence, arrest, and involuntary hospitalization, and a disproportionate number of the victims will be Black and Latinx New Yorkers, who are much less likely to receive outpatient mental health care. Any serious effort to address public mental health crises would dramatically increase funding for healthcare professionals and services. 

All in all, Hochul’s plan rejects the lessons and social science of recent years, rehashing an approach to crime that will deepen the city’s inequities. We’ve been here before. That’s the bad news, but it’s also the good news. City activists and community groups already have years of experience advocating in the streets and in the courts for laws, policies, and practices that actually make people safer, ones rooted in public services, not policing, in care, not criminalization, and in well-being, not war.

Last modified 

March 21, 2024