The Origins of New York’s Stop-and-Frisk: Police, Race, and Civil Rights Activism, 1957-1968

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This dissertation examines the origins and social impact of New York’s stop-and-frisk law, which authorizes police to stop, question and frisk people without a warrant or probable cause to believe crime was committed. Several observers associate it with a recent history of racial profiling, or conservative policing practices of 1990s aimed at reducing violent crime in urban areas, or much earlier national law enforcement policy that developed in the 1980s to combat war on drugs. A closer examination reveals deeper roots of stop-and-frisk, exposing its long history as a police practice that suddenly developed into criminal procedure law to limit Fourth Amendment rights and further expand police powers at a critical time in U.S. history. During the 1960s law enforcement agents lobbied for the new stop-and-frisk law. This dissertation shows that enforcement of stop-and-frisk law and vigorous challenges to it by Black New Yorkers was a major battle of the 1960s. ', 'Historians, however, have neglected to include northern struggles against unreasonable search and seizures and for greater criminal defendant rights in narratives of the modern Civil Rights Movement. The Nation of Islam, a radical Black religious group, also stood against unreasonable police stops and searches as well as for expanding criminal justice in local courts. Yet their interventions are largely overlooked and under-analyzed. Scholars argue law enforcement bureaucrats wanted the law as part of the police professionalization movement. This work expands that research and considers the intersections of Black struggles for civil rights and criminal justice. It also shows the new statute arose as a riposte to liberal federal court decisions and from New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller’s political aspirations, which scholars commonly overlook. This research corrects these gaps and expands historiographies on policing and imprisonment during the postwar civil rights era. ', 'Based on extensive archival research, this dissertation finds that the expansion of New York State’s police powers precipitated an earlier emergence of the carceral state and had a direct connection to urban protest and civil rights assertions. Furthermore, stop-and-frisk law in New York has contemporary relevance for millions of Americans. Given that today more than one million Black people are warehoused in prisons across the United States, it is, therefore, essential to understand the legacy of the 1960s law enforcement policy, struggles against it in the streets and local courts and its connection to Black incarceration.

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  • 10/08/2019
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