Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Leonard Pitts Jr.

he right of the peo­ple to be se­cure in their per­sons, houses, pa­pers, and ef­fects, against un­rea­son­able searches and seizures, shall not be vi­o­lated...” — Fourth Amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion of the United States Just in case you for­got. There has been, af­ter all, an ap­palling amount of for­get­ting where that amend­ment is con­cerned. And New York City has be­come the epi­cen­ter of the am­ne­sia. Yes, the “stop and frisk” pol­icy of ques­tion­ing and search­ing peo­ple a cop finds sus­pi­cious is used else­where as well. But it is in the big, bruised ap­ple that the is­sue now comes to a head.

Fed­eral agents re­cently ar­rested a New York City cop on charges of vi­o­lat­ing the civil rights of an African-amer­i­can man. Of­fi­cer Michael Darag­jati al­legedly stopped the man in April and threw him against a parked van to search him. No drugs or weapons were found, but Mr. Darag­jati re­port­edly be­came an­gry the man ques­tioned his rough treat­ment and re­quested the of­fi­cer’s name and badge num­ber. So Mr. Darag­jati ran him in on a charge of re­sist­ing ar­rest. Later, talk­ing on the phone to a friend, he bragged that he had “fried an­other n----r” and that it was “no big deal.” This was over­heard by the feds, who had him un­der sur­veil­lance in a sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Let no one fix his or her mouth to pro­nounce them­selves “sur­prised.” Blacks and His­pan­ics have com­plained for years about the se­lec­tive at­ten­tion they get from po­lice. Giv­ing cops the power to ran­domly stop and search pedes­tri­ans they find sus­pi­cious could not help but ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lem.

Last year, about 600,000 peo­ple were stopped and frisked in New York. Though blacks and His­pan­ics ac­count for just over half the city’s pop­u­la­tion, they rep­re­sent about 85 per­cent of those stopped. The Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tional Jus­tice, a civil rights group, says drugs or weapons are turned up in less than 2 per­cent of those stops. It bears re­peat­ing: less than 2 per­cent. That fail­ure rate sug­gests at min­i­mum a need to change the stan­dard by which po­lice de­cide whom to stop. “Sus­pi­cion” ob­vi­ously isn’t cut­ting it. Of­fi­cer Darag­jati’s al­leged malfea­sance also sug­gests a cry­ing need for stricter over­sight.

The ar­gu­ment in de­fense of stop and frisk can be boiled down to two words: It works. Marc La­vorgna, a spokesman for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, says crime has been driven to “his­toric lows” in part by this tac­tic.

The re­sponse to that ar­gu­ment also boils down to two words: So what?

The crime rate has been fall­ing for years all over the coun­try, so it’s hard to sin­gle out what ef­fect this par­tic­u­lar tac­tic in this par­tic­u­lar town might’ve had. But as­sume it does work. Can that truly be our stan­dard for de­cid­ing what is ac­cept­able?

If it is, why not al­low po­lice to search pri­vate homes with­out war­rants? Why not ban pri­vate own­er­ship of firearms? These things, too would work. More crim­i­nals would be ar­rested. Fewer peo­ple would die.

And all it would cost is a few con­sti­tu­tional rights.

Most of us are not black or His­panic, most of us do not live in New York. But all of us have con­sti­tu­tional rights, so all of us have a stake in the drama play­ing out in our largest city.

The Fourth Amend­ment means what is hap­pen­ing there is wrong. Or it means noth­ing at all.

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