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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. Credit: Rick Kopstein

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

Seated next to his predecessors from the Bloomberg, Giuliani and Koch mayoralties, Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter, 60, lamented that among past city leadership "there was a failure to recognize that they were rubbing salt in an open wound."

"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?" he said. "And not everybody has to live that way."

Carter, a former federal prosecutor who as head of the city's Law Department decides how to handle litigation against the city, has settled several cases Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration fought, including a suit alleging that stop and frisk as it had been practiced 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.

He was on a panel at New York Law School of corporation counsels: Paul Crotty, who worked for Mayor Rudy Giuliani and is now a federal judge; Frederick A. O. "Fritz" Schwarz Jr., who worked for Mayor Ed Koch and is at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law; and Bloomberg's Michael Cardozo, now in private practice.

Cardozo had represented Bloomberg, a supporter of the status quo stop-and-frisk tactic, in his fight against the suit. The use of the tactic -- in which police officers stop, question, and in some cases frisk mostly minority young men -- peaked under Bloomberg, with 700,000 such encounters in 2011. The controversy was at the center of Bill de Blasio's successful 2013 mayoral race.

Stops have steeply declined -- there were 46,235 for all of 2014, says the NYPD -- a trend that began at the end of Bloomberg's tenure.

At one point, Crotty warned that "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," he added.

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

Crotty agreed.

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