Revolution #212, September 26, 2010

NYPD Stop-and-Frisk: Massive Injustice Against the People that Must Be STOPPED

In New York City, on the day you are reading this, the police will stop almost 2,000 people and subject them to humiliating questioning and searches. That's right: almost 2,000 arbitrary stops in one day. Today and every day. Nine out of ten of the people stopped will be Black and Latino. The largest number will be teenagers and young men under 20 years old. Many of the young men stopped today have been stopped before and will be stopped again and again, week in and week out. The police will use force against one of four of the people they stop—for example, drawing a weapon or throwing someone to the ground. And as any young person of color in a major U.S. city knows, such an encounter can turn deadly, any day or any minute.

There have been almost 3,000,000 of these stops in New York City between 2006 and 2009 and there will be over 600,000 stops in 2010. The population of New York City is 8,391,881. The police themselves say that over 90 percent of those stopped have not violated any laws. Of those charged as a result of being stopped, half the charges may be dismissed. This outrageous New York Police Department (NYPD) practice is called "stop-and-frisk" and it is a "model" of policing for other major U.S. cities.

Illegal Under their Own Laws

All of this is totally and blatantly illegal and illegitimate under the stated laws of this country.


Stopped and Frisked

In the age of Obama and supposedly "post-racial" America, stop-and-frisks are accelerating in Black and Latino communities in NYC, and when people lift up their heads to assert the rights supposedly guaranteed by the law, they are not protected but often viciously punished.

Two Brooklyn women, Taneisha Chapman and Markeena Williams, were stopped by cops in August 2009 and asked for ID. They showed police an ACLU flyer titled "What should you do if stopped by the police?" issued by the office of their State Assemblyman. It said, "It's not a crime to refuse to answer questions. You can't be arrested for merely refusing to identify yourself on the street." They were promptly handcuffed and taken to Brooklyn Central Booking. Their charges were later dismissed and they are reported to be filing a federal lawsuit. (New York Daily News, July 10, 2010)

Rhonda Scott, 39, lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, which has one of the highest stop-and-frisk rates in the city. She was walking to her own house one day in August 2008 after returning a plate she borrowed from a neighbor. A cop told her to "be quiet." She returned home and asked her boyfriend to get the officer's name and badge number. By the time he returned, many more police had arrived on her block. Rhonda Scott stood on her own property, outside her house, observing them. When police demanded her ID and she didn't have it on her, they arrested her, breaking both her wrists and pulling her by her hair into the police car. She was taken to central booking after 14 hours in the precinct and only saw a doctor on her own two days later. She missed seven months of work because of her injuries. Rhonda filed a complaint, but the Civilian Complaint Review Board sided with the officers. (Village Voice, "NYPD Tapes Part 2," May 11, 2010)

The U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights and supposedly foundational to the American rule of law, protects against "unwarranted search and seizure" (that is, unreasonable search and arrest). The Fourteenth Amendment, passed after slavery was ended, says that rights under the law and due process apply equally to all, meaning that anyone accused of a crime is entitled to a legal process where they can defend against the charges, and no one is supposed to be punished (by the police or anyone else) when a crime has not been proven. In fact, analysis shows that these laws and rights do not exist for an entire group of people. For this group—African-Americans, Latinos, and other oppressed nationalities—there is the sharp edge of force, with no effective due process.

The legal standard for a stop is supposed to be "reasonable suspicion" that a crime has been committed. The legal standard for someone to be frisked is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is armed and dangerous. However, the 2009 NYPD records of the stops and searches list these pretexts: "Furtive movement" (44%), "Appears to be 'casing'" (28%), "Other" (20%), "Appears to be lookout" (16.8%), "Fits description" (16.7%) and several other "reasons" including suspicious clothing, "bulge" or "suspicious object," etc. (New York Times, July 11, 2010)

And the government's own stop-and-frisk figures are undeniable evidence of racial profiling by the NYPD. Of the total of 311,646 people stopped between January through June 2009, 52.3 percent were Black and 32.1 percent Latino. Compare this with the overall New York City population figures according to nationality: 24 percent Black, 28 percent Latino, and 35 percent white (the rest are Native American, Asian-American, and others).

What is being said is, if you are Black or Latino, especially if you're young, you must not do the following things or else you will be treated as a criminal, resulting in being searched, beaten and maybe worse: Move in any way the cops don't like; wear clothing the cops don't like; resemble the "description" of a suspect (meaning any "Black male" or "Latino male" of a certain age); carry a wallet, cell phone or music player in your pocket ("bulge") or your hand ("suspicious object"). Or you can be stopped for no particular reason at all ("other"). People have taken to calling it "walking while Black."

The dehumanizing toll on the spirit is painful. Young people grow into adulthood with the constant knowledge that any moment of fun, hanging out together, even walking into the building where you live, can take a sudden turn into a nightmare scenario of humiliation and abuse and worse.

Official Orders to Police: Break the Law or Else

At the same time as new NYPD stop-and-frisk figures were published this summer, the Village Voice and New York Times began to release hundreds of hours of secret recordings provided by several New York City police officers and commanders. Their recordings and interviews open a wide window on a police culture of terror and brutality that is demanded and commanded from the highest levels of the NYPD and the city administration down to the local precincts. It is made completely clear that any cop on the beat who hesitates to carry this out can lose their job.

A sergeant in the Bedford-Stuyvesant (Brooklyn) 81st Precinct is recorded: "Anybody walking around, shake them up, stop them, 250 them, no matter what the explanation is. If they're walking, it doesn't matter." ("250" is NYPD code for the form they fill out after a stop.) The commander of the precinct is recorded on Halloween night, 2008: "You're on a foot post, fuck it. Take the first guy you got and lock them all up from [building the police were targeting]. Boom. Bring 'em in. Lodge them. You're going to go back out and process it later on." A lieutenant adds: "Jump out, ground-and-pound, 'cuff 'em up, and hand 'em off to somebody." (Village Voice, "The NYPD Tapes, Part 2," May 11, 2010)

Adil Polanco, born in the Dominican Republic, was a rookie cop in the 41st Precinct in the Bronx: "We'd make up a bullshit reason to justify the stop, when, most of the time, we had no reason to justify the stop… We were told to say they 'fit the description.' But that just meant you were Spanish or black… They want you to summons people for disorderly conduct, when they aren't doing anything… One time, I was ordered to give a guy a summons for no dog license, but the problem was I didn't see a dog. " Polanco complained and was fired during his probation period. (Village Voice, "The NYPD Tapes, Part 5: The Corroboration," August 25, 2010)

When "Reforms" Make Things Worse

In 1999, Amadou Diallo, a 22-year-old African immigrant, was murdered by the Street Crimes Unit with 41 shots as he stood holding his wallet in the front door of his Bronx building. There was massive outrage and protest when it came out that the Street Crimes Unit (SCU) was randomly stopping 80,000 people every year. The SCU was disbanded in 2002 and the database to record police stops was started in response to charges of racial profiling. The "reforms" instituted after Amadou Diallo's murder resulted in stop-and-frisk going from the 80,000 per year specialty of the "elite" Street Crimes Unit, to the massive and official practice of the entire NYPD with 600,000 stops this year; and the creation of the NYPD database that recorded the personal information of a huge section of young Black and Latino New Yorkers.

Stop and think about this… what gets revealed about the role of the state when "reforms" of even the ugliest expressions of the true nature of this country get recycled into new and further measures for control and domination of the most oppressed? When the supposedly universal code of laws of "American democracy" can be completely shredded and dismissed? When large areas of NYC might as well have a sign at the gate: "NYPD Stop-and-Frisk Zone: Basic Rights Do Not Apply"?

Not a Few Bad Cops, But a Policy of The System

NYPD Chief Raymond Kelly and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg aggressively defend the massive and blatantly illegal stop-and-frisk practice as essential police policy, and it is enforced top-to-bottom in the police department through threats and intimidation of not only the people they are "policing" but even of their own officers. This is not "a few bad cops" or "poor training." It is both systematic and systemic.

People are supposedly protected—by the U.S. Constitution—from arbitrary searches by law enforcement or being targeted by cops just because of their nationality or the color of their skin. But the tapes of official police orders to street cops show the opposite is the case. And statistics that are kept show that 80.9% of all "stop and frisk" are on Blacks and Latinos, while Blacks and Latinos constitute 52.6% of the population of New York City. So you have to ask yourself, why?

To answer that you have to look at the structures of society that the police are enforcing. If you do, you will find that tens of millions of people in this "land of the free" are locked into a life of inferior schools, bad housing, terrible and often non-existent health care, systematic discrimination in jobs and credit and every single other sphere of society. You will find that these tens of millions of people are blamed for the ills of society. And you will begin to see that it is these practices—and the system that feeds off and needs these practices—that the police are actually serving and protecting. (For more on the whole history of the oppression of Black people in the U.S., the ways in which it persists today, and how revolution could be made to end this, see Revolution #144.)

With the stop-and-frisk laws, the police are practicing a counter-insurgency before there is an insurgency. That is to say, they are using terror and intimidation and the amassing of huge databases of people to prevent African-Americans, Latinos and other oppressed nationalities from even daring to raise their heads.

But it doesn't have to be that way—and people cannot afford to allow it to stay that way. We have said elsewhere, and we will say it again, because it cannot be said too much:

The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world...when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness...those days must be GONE. And they CAN be.

Living in constant terror of the illegitimate abuse and violence of the police should never be accepted. This October 22, the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation, should be a major step in ending "those days."

Fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution.

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