New Democratic co-chair on stop-and-frisk: ‘obviously a crime-fighting tool for a lazy police force’

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Bill Thompson and Keith Wright. (Azi Paybarah )
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The man Governor Andrew Cuomo selected to be the new co-chair of the New York State Democratic Party, Keith Wright, is a longtime fixture in Harlem politics, and a popular figure with his colleagues in the State Assembly.

He's also an outspoken critic of the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk tactic, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police commissioner Ray Kelly suggest has been indispensable in keeping New York's crime rates lower than those in other big cities.

"Stop-and-frisks are demeaning," Wright told me in a recent interview, before his appointment as co-chair was announced. "They have a negative psychological as well as emotional effect on people and a community and I would like to say emphatically, we need to stop the arbitrary stop-and-frisk, right here and right now.

"It's obviously a crime-fighting tool for a lazy police force, because they just want to stop-and-frisk anybody. If you dredge the Hudson River you may be able to catch fish. It's a scattergun approach and I believe it's misguided."

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For Wright, the issue is personal.

"I was stopped numerous times," Wright said during an April 18 debate in the Assembly, when he introduced legislation to eliminate racial and ethnic profiling by law-enforcement agencies in New York.

The most recent incident occurred around 148th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, around 10 a.m., Wright said. He did not recall the year.

He told me he was driving his burgundy Volvo with a friend, who was a State Senate employee at the time.

"We were on our way, driving up Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. And cops were coming southbound in the northbound lane, and blocked me from going up."

Wright recalled he was was wearing a t-shirt and that his car had a license plates identifying it as belonging to a member of the New York State Assembly.

"Cops pulled me over, stopped me," he said. "Cops came in front me, came in back of me, pulled their guns on me, told me to get out of the car and lie down on he ground."

The officers, according to Wright, yelled "Get the hell out of the car."

The incident was resolved after Wright produced his driver's license, he said.

When Wright was a student attending the prestigious Fieldston school in the late 1960s, he said he was frequently stopped by the police traveling to and from the Riverdale campus. He said he learned over the years to control his temper in such situations.

"I feel like hitting them," he said. "But as I told you, my mother taught me don't get into fights with people who carry guns. And that stays in the back of my head."