“For young people in my neighborhood, getting stopped and frisked is a rite of passage,” wrote Nicholas K. Peart, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College, in a December 2011 opinion page essay in the New York Times titled, “Why Is the N.Y.P.D. After Me?”

And, according to figures released by the New York Police Department this week, being stopped and frisked continues to be a dogged reality for a disproportionate number of Black and Latino youths in New York City.

In 2011 of the 684,330 persons stopped—the highest number since the NYPD began recording stop-and-frisk figures in 2001—87 percent were Black or Latino. And, out of every 10 persons stopped, only one was actually arrested or issued a summons.

“The new data builds upon eight years of previous data showing that race is the main factor determining NYPD stops,” stated the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in a press release. CCR said the data buttresses its litigation, Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al., which challenges the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices as being racially discriminatory.

“Police stops-and-frisks without reasonable suspicion violate the Fourth Amendment, and racial profiling is a violation of fundamental rights and protections of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” CCR stated. “Further, this kind of heavy-handed policing promotes mistrust and fear of police officers in communities of color—rather than serving those communities, police end up occupying them.”

Peart, the community college student, said after he was stopped and frisked three times, he learned to fear the police.

“After the third incident I worried when police cars drove by; I was afraid I would be stopped and searched or that something worse would happen. I dress better if I go downtown. I don’t hang out with friends outside my neighborhood in Harlem as much as I used to. Essentially, I incorporated into my daily life the sense that I might find myself up against a wall or on the ground with an officer’s gun at my head. For a Black man in his 20s like me, it’s just a fact of life in New York.”

For some New Yorkers, however, stop-and-frisk is a necessary fact of life given the level of crime.
“Stop and frisk is not a fun thing for officers to do, but they do it because it’s the only thing that stops that gun before it’s used on a 9-year-old or a grandmother,” Councilman Peter F. Vallone, Jr., D-District 22, told the AFRO. “I understand why this is controversial and why people want it to be stopped. people who oppose this policy have not offered another way to get that gun before it’s used.”

Vallone said stop-and-frisks have saved approximately 25,000 lives since 1990. When asked about the persistent racial disparities, though, the lawmaker said, “It’s not going to improve because that’s the way it’s going to be.”

The numbers are not going to correlate with population rates, he further explained, because most of the crimes are in low-income, minority neighborhoods and that’s where officers will be deployed.

The Astoria Democrat acknowledged that “there are some bad cops out there making bad stops.” But lawmakers are promoting policies requiring police to explain to people why they’re being stopped and to generally ensure they’re being respectful of civil rights while they’re doing their job.

“We’re going to continue to monitor the process,” Vallone promised.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO