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NYC Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter: Aggressive stop-and-frisk policy was 'rubbing salt in an open wound'

The Center for City Law at New York

The Center for City Law at New York Law School celebrated its 20th anniversary with the CityLaw Breakfast series presenting a panel of the current and former NYC Corporation Counsels, May 1, 2015. Left to right: Frederick ("Fritz") Schwarz, Jr., Brennan Center for Justice; Michael Cardozo, partner, Proskauer Rose; Zachary Carter, current corporation counsel of New York City and the former United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Southern District Judge Paul Crotty. Photo Credit: Rick Kopstein

The de Blasio administration's top lawyer said on Friday that his own experiences as a black man have shaped his views of "the hue and cry coming from minority communities" that are frustrated with the NYPD's stop-and-frisk tactic.

Seated next to his predecessors from the Bloomberg, Giuliani and Koch mayoralties, current Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter lamented that among past city leadership, "there was a failure to recognize that they were rubbing salt in an open wound."

"I'm a 60-year-old man, and . . . I still reflexively cling to my store receipts when I'm in a pharmacy or a neighborhood store or the grocery store out of a lifetime, residual concern that I might be challenged as a shoplifter, all right?" Carter said. "And not everybody has to live that way."

Carter, a former federal prosecutor who as head of the city's Law Department issues legal opinions to the mayor, decides how to handle litigation against the city and serves as the city's top lawyer, has settled several long-running cases fought by the Bloomberg administration, including a federal suit alleging that stop-and-frisk amounted to unconstitutional racial discrimination.

"I think that there was over the years, over the past decade or so, an absence of real communication between communities of color and the leadership of the city that could help decision-makers understand, from the vantage point of people who are living in struggling communities and happen to be of color, what it is like to be overpoliced," Carter said.

Carter was part of a breakfast panel at New York Law School Friday morning of fellow corporation counsels: the Bloomberg administration's Michael Cardozo, who is now in private practice; Paul A. Crotty, who worked for former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and is now a federal judge; and Frederick A. O. "Fritz" Schwarz Jr., who worked for Edward I. Koch and is now chief counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

Cardozo represented Bloomberg -- a staunch supporter of the stop-and-frisk tactic -- in his fight against the suit.

The use of stop-and-frisk -- in which police officers stop, question, and in some cases frisk mostly minority young men -- peaked under Bloomberg with 700,000 annual such encounters. The controversy was at the center of de Blasio's successful 2013 race for mayor, and stops have declined precipitously, a trend that began at the end of Bloomberg's tenure.

Schwarz had elicited Carter's comments by asking about the police department's relationship to the citizenry, especially black people.

Crotty warned that in his experience as a Giuliani-era official touring minority communities, "you really have hell to pay" if "you withdraw the police from these communities, or tell them not to enforce the law."

"You're going to create a different problem, just as serious, in the other direction," Crotty said.

Carter added: "What we have got to do ... is to walk and chew gum at the same time."


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