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Stop-and-frisk a central campaign issue in New York's mayoral race

Demonstrators march during a protest in New York June 17, 2012. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Demonstrators march during a protest in New York June 17, 2012. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

By Victoria Cavaliere

NEW YORK (Reuters) - No single issue has shaped New York City's Democratic mayoral primary more than the aggressive stop-and-frisk tactic used by police, with some residents saying it was the deciding factor in backing a candidate.

In central Brooklyn, the issue is personal. Many residents said on Tuesday they or someone they knew had been subjected to the procedure.

"When you see a cop, you have to straighten up. You're almost in a panic mode," said Naphtali Aikens, 34, a personal trainer.

"When you walk out of your house at night you have to ask, 'Is somebody going to stop and frisk you for no reason, just because you're a minority?'"

Aikens said he was leaning toward Bill de Blasio, the city's public advocate who made criticism of stop and frisk a central issue of his campaign.

De Blasio, who has led public opinion polls, was hoping to win more than 40 percent of the Democratic vote on Tuesday - the threshold needed to avoid an October 1 runoff.

"To see a white guy who can relate to the urban community, that really made me push for him more," said Aikens, adding he was moved by a de Blasio campaign ad featuring the candidate's bi-racial son Dante.

Other Democratic candidates, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former city comptroller Bill Thompson, have been more muted in their criticism of the tactic.

An analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union found young black and Latino men were the targets of 40.6 percent of police stops in 2012 but account for just 4.7 percent of the city's population.

In most cases, no arrests were made and no weapons were found.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who leaves office at the end of the year, have fiercely defended the program as critical to maintaining the city's 30 percent reduction in violent crime since 2001.

Last month, a federal judge appointed an independent police monitor and ordered the department to adopt a written policy specifying circumstances under which stops are authorized.

Also last month, the City Council voted to increase police oversight, overriding Bloomberg's veto of two measures.

In late July, Thompson, the sole black candidate, delivered a speech in which he denounced the tactic and said that, under Bloomberg, the city had all but required police to treat young black and Latino men with suspicion.

Also in July, Quinn began adding a caveat to her long-standing campaign promise to try to keep Kelly on as police commissioner: stop and frisk incidents must come down.

In Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, Johnny Robinson, 21, said he voted for Thompson because he likes his stance on education and street safety. But he said he was not sure any candidate would do much to change police practices.

"People are still out there killing people," he said.

John Sykes, 55, a railroad employee born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant, conceded that crime is still a problem in the neighborhood but said police should not profile.

"You can't single me out because I'm a black face, and so of course I'm a thug, a criminal," Sykes said. He said he voted for de Blasio - the candidate who he said had distanced himself most from Bloomberg.

(Additional reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Ken Wills)

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