But the crack wave has long since passed and violent crime rates have plummeted to four-decade lows, in the process reducing crime as a salient political issue. Traditionally conservative states, driven by a need to save money on building and maintaining prisons, have taken the lead in scaling back policies of mass incarceration. Against that backdrop, the move away from mandatory sentences and Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s ruling on stop-and-frisk practices signaled that a course correction on two big criminal justice issues that disproportionately affect minorities has finally been made, according to the advocates who have pushed for those changes.
“I think that there is a sea change now of thinking around the impact of over-incarceration and selective enforcement in our criminal justice system on racial minorities,” said Vanita Gupta of the American Civil Liberties Union. “These are hugely significant and symbolic events, because we would not have either of these even five years ago.”
Michelle Alexander, an Ohio State University law professor who wrote “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” an influential 2010 book about the racial impact of policies like stop-and-frisk and mandatory minimum drug sentences, said the two developments gave her a sense of “cautious optimism.”
“For those of us who have become increasingly alarmed over the years at the millions of lives that have been wasted due to the drug war and the types of police tactics that have been deployed in the get-tough-on-crime movement, today’s announcements give us fresh hope that there is, in fact, a growing public consensus that the path that we, the nation, have been on for the past 40 years has been deeply misguided and has caused far more harm and suffering than it has prevented,” she said.Video
Reactions to Stop-and-Frisk Ruling
Residents of Brownsville, Brooklyn, were divided over the policing strategy after a federal judge ruled that it violated the constitutional rights of minority New Yorkers.By Axel Gerdau on Publish DateAugust 12, 2013. . Watch in Times Video »
But not everyone was celebrating. William G. Otis, a former federal prosecutor and an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law School, described Mr. Holder’s move as a victory for drug dealers that would incentivize greater sales of addictive contraband, and he suggested that the stop-and-frisk ruling could be overturned on appeal.
Yet Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based research group, said many police chiefs agreed that it was time to rethink mandatory sentencing for low-level drug offenses. And he said departments across the country would examine the stop-and-frisk ruling in New York “to see if their practices pass muster.”
But he added: “You can’t get away from the fact that in most large cities, crime is concentrated in poor areas which are predominantly minority. The question becomes, what tactics are acceptable in those communities to reduce crime? And there is a trade-off between the tactics that may be used and the issue of fairness.”Continue reading the main story
David Rudovsky, a civil rights lawyer in Philadelphia who has been involved in a lawsuit over stop-and-frisk in that city, said both Holder’s announcement and the ruling were “part of a national re-examination of criminal justice policy that has been spurred for the last 40 years by a fear of crime.”
As that fear has lessened, he added, there has been more room to be heard for critics who say that some policies have gone too far and may be counterproductive. Those critics cite the low rate of finding guns with stop-and-frisk actions, and say that the experience of being searched — and the consequences if drugs are discovered — alienate people in targeted communities, making them less willing to give the police information about more serious violent crimes.
“There was the thought that if we stop, frisk, arrest and incarcerate huge numbers of people, that will reduce crime,” Rudovsky said. “But while that may have had some effect on crime, the negative parts outweighed the positive parts.”
Critics have argued that aggressive policing in minority neighborhoods can distort overall crime statistics. Federal data show, for example, that black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates.
“There is just as much drugs going on in the Upper East Side of New York or Cleveland Park in D.C.,” said Jamie Fellner, a specialist on race and criminal drug law enforcement for Human Rights Watch, citing predominantly affluent and white neighborhoods. “But that is not where police are doing their searches for drugs.”
Alfred Blumstein, a Carnegie Mellon professor who has studied race and incarceration issues, said Mr. Holder’s speech and Judge Scheindlin’s stop-and-frisk ruling both addressed policies that “were attempts to stop crime, but they weren’t terribly effective.”
Together, he said, the events indicated that society was “trying to become more effective and more targeted and, in the process, to reduce the heavy impact on particularly African-Americans.”Continue reading the main story
Source : http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/13/us/two-powerful-signals-of-a-major-shift-on-crime.html