Quinn’s vote against a ‘ban on racial profiling’ made simple, by Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio at City Hall. (Dana Rubinstein)
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"Today, Speaker Quinn will stand with Mayor Bloomberg and vote for a second time against a ban on racial profiling," Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said today at City Hall. "It's as simple as that."

It isn't, really.

Quinn is expected to vote against the Council override of a bill that would make it easier to sue the police department for racial profiling. But as Quinn took pains to note in yesterday's debate, it is already illegal for the NYPD to profile based on race, nationality, ethnicity and religion. The bill that de Blasio calls the "ban on racial profiling" would actually make it illegal for New York City police officers to profile people based on sexual orientation, disability, or housing status. It would also make it easier to sue the NYPD by allowing complaints based upon the legal notion of "disparate impact."

(Despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg's apocalyptic warnings, N.Y.U. law professor Rick Hills recently told me, "The consequences of this provision are really unpredictable, depending entirely on how aggressively a judge would enforce it.")

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But by touting his support for the biased policing bill in terms of "racial profiling," alongside his support of an inspector general for the NYPD, de Blasio is attempting to reinforce the differences between the Democratic candidates on stop-and-frisk, and to signal that he, more than either Quinn or Bill Thompson, is the real candidate for stop and frisk reform.

"Now let's be really clear: three things necessary to fix the stop and frisk crisis," said de Blasio today. "A ban on racial profiling, the independent inspector and a new police commissioner. … You cannot make substantial change without all three of those."

De Blasio is the only leading Democratic candidate to support both bills. Quinn supports the inspector general bill and Thompson supports neither, citing concerns about excessive court oversight of the NYPD. All three have promised that as mayor, they would substantially reduce the NYPD's use of the controversial tactic. None has vowed to eliminate it.

Quinn has suggested she would keep Ray Kelly as police commissioner, but only if he reformed the use of the stop-and-frisk practice he championed. De Blasio has suggested he would consider as a replacement commissioner Bill Bratton, who supports the practice, and Kelly's top deputy, Philip Banks III.

I asked de Blasio why, if racial profiling was already illegal but biased policing based on sexual orientation and housing status wasn't, he persisted in calling the bill a "ban on racial profiling."

"Well it's obviously a ban on many types of profiling," he said. "But the crux of the stop-and-frisk issue has been about racial profiling. And I find it ironic for [Quinn] to say well there's laws against racial profiling, yet those laws are obviously ignored for years and racial profiling continued."

"The system failed a huge swath of the city," he continued, when pressed further on the topic by Bloomberg News' Henry Goldman. "So you can say well there's a federal law … did the federal law and the federal courts stop what happened for the last two years? Were people unfairly stopped over and over again?"

"The lawsuit was filed years ago," said Goldman, referring to a suit against the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices. A federal judge recently ruled the department was engaging in racial profiling and appointed an independent monitor to reform the practice.

"I'm trying to answer your question," said De Blasio.

"It was resolved weeks ago," said Goldman.

"May I answer your question?" said de Blasio.

"So the answer to that would be yes," said Goldman.

"If for years and years and years people were treated unfairly and nothing stopped it, something is fundamentally wrong," said de Blasio. "A justice system that takes years to begin to address people's pain is not working. When we say we need a local ban on racial profiling and all other forms of profiling it is because it hasn't worked, the status quo hasn't worked. "

"And believe me, a lot of LGBT people, homeless folks that get profiled number one they get racially profiled," said Bertha Lewis, the president of the Black Institute who appeared alongside de Blasio at the event.