Stop and frisk still plagues Philadelphia | Opinion
Generations of young black folk are growing up feeling demoralized and humiliated as this problem continues.
There is an unfortunate reality of being African American in Philadelphia: When we walk the streets of this city, we are more likely to be stopped by the police. Once we are stopped, we are more likely to be frisked. And an alarmingly high number of these stops and frisks are conducted without legal rationale. This is especially true for our young black men.
That’s the lived experience of African Americans in Philadelphia. While we didn’t need data to know that, the latest reports from the ACLU of Pennsylvania in its lawsuit against the city, which dates to 2010, illustrate our experience in numbers.
Seven times since the city agreed to reform its practices, the ACLU has released a report that measures the city’s compliance with the agreement it signed in 2011 to settle the lawsuit. Seven times those reports have shown that the police continue to stop Philadelphians without justification, that the police continue to put their hands on Philadelphians without justification, and that the Philadelphians forced to endure this are disproportionately black men.
The 2018 report on legal justifications for stops, which was released in November and draws from data collected in the first six months of the year, shows that 16 percent of those stops happened without legal justification. The city agrees with that figure.
Sixteen percent may sound low, but that’s more than 6,000 stops. More than 6,000 people were stopped on the street by Philadelphia police for no legal reason. That’s not fair, it’s not just, and it’s humiliating and terrifying for the people who experience it.
That number should be zero. That’s why ending stop-and-frisk police practices is a core tenant of POWER’s Live Free campaign. As people of faith, we feel a moral imperative to put a stop to police violence and mass incarceration in our communities.
We know that there are significant racial disparities in police stops. In every police service area in the city, the percentage of stops of African Americans was greater than the local black population. And the lower the black population, the wider the disparity. After controlling for other factors, the ACLU’s report concluded that the disparities across the city could not be explained by nonracial factors. Race is the reason why we’re stopped.
While police record considerably fewer frisks than stops, the data show a regular lack of legal justification with significant racial bias in frisks, too. Police had no legal reasoning in 30 percent of the more than 700 frisks that occurred between January and June. Nearly 77 percent of frisks were conducted against African Americans.
To be fair to officials — particularly Mayor James Kenney, who pledged to end unconstitutional stops and frisks as a candidate in 2015 — the total number of stops and the percentage of stops that are without legal justification continue to drop. Progress is being made.
Still, that’s cold comfort for the thousands of Philadelphians who are harassed and terrorized by unfair, unwarranted police behavior. Generations of young black folk are growing up feeling demoralized and humiliated as this problem continues. POWER and our allies and, most important, the people in our communities want to know that the mayor and Police Commissioner Richard Ross are not going to rest easy. The end goal here has never been progress. The goal is ending the unfair, unjust policing of the people of this city, period.
Mayor Kenney told the Philadelphia Tribune, “And we’re not close to being done yet.” That’s a good thing — POWER and the people of this city intend to hold the mayor to that pledge until the day the Philadelphia police stop harassing and terrorizing us. We hope that you will join our Live Free campaign in this important fight.
The Rev. Gregory Holston is executive director of POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild).