Revolution #79, February 25, 2007


NYPD Stop-and-Frisks: Criminalizing People in the Ghettos and Barrios

At 14, Rocky Harris knows the routine: You raise your hands high, you keep your mouth shut and you don't dare move a muscle.

Then the police officer's gloved hands go up and down each leg, around your waist, across your chest and back, then down your shoulders to your wrists.

When they don't find guns or drugs, Rocky said, they let you go. He said that he had been searched, fruitlessly, at least three times since last summer, and that he had friends who had been searched repeatedly.

"They tell you that you're selling drugs. But I don't do nothing wrong. I just play ball," he said, walking through the Red Hook East housing development in Brooklyn yesterday morning, headed to a community center for a game of basketball.

—The New York Times, 2/4/07

On Feb. 2, the New York Police Department released a report saying that cops stopped and frisked 508,540 people on New York streets in 2006. This is an average of 1,393 per day. More than half a million stop-and-frisks in 2006 alone! That's more than the population of Atlanta, and represents a 500% increase over 2002, the last full year for which a report with such statistics was written and made public.

A 2003 report on the NYPD by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights estimated that at that time, cops were officially reporting only one out of 30 stop-and-frisks. So the actual number of people being stopped are likely to be dramatically higher than even the more than 500,000 reported for 2006.

Following the cop slaying of Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 bullets in 1999 and the public outrage that ensued, the NYPD was court ordered to compile complete data each year on who they stop and frisk and why. But the NYPD has not complied since 2002, providing only a partial report for 2003 and none at all for 2004 and 2005.

The NYCLU has raised concern that "The NYPD is compiling a massive database of law-abiding New Yorkers, mostly Black and Latino, who have been stopped by the police."

Digging into these numbers makes your blood boil. Of those stopped and frisked last year, 55.2% were Black and 30% were Latino, which means more than 85% of the stops overall. And this has little to do with “making the streets safe from crime.” Less than 10% of those--usually involving a search for guns or drugs--resulted in anyone being arrested, or even getting a summons.

And look at some of the reasons given over and over again by the cops for why they stopped and frisked someone. "They fit the description of a suspect," or, "They were in a high-crime area." In the East New York section of Brooklyn, which has some of the city's poorest neighborhoods and its highest crime rate, the cops stopped, questioned or frisked someone last year about once every 24 minutes. And of those people stopped, 69% were Black and 24% were Latino.

This comes down to them saying it's a crime to be in the ghettoes and barrios of New York. That just walking down the street or hanging out in your neighborhood makes you a suspect and leads to you being accosted by the cops, made to show ID and turn out your pockets and not say a word or dare to move a muscle or you may get beaten or shot.

The 2006 report paints a picture of a police department patrolling Black and Latino neighborhoods like an occupying army. A police department that could encounter Sean Bell leaving his bachelor party and gun him down in a fusillade of 50 bullets. Or, just a week later, chase Timur Person, catch and subdue him, and then shoot and kill him while he lay helpless on the ground.

They talk about these stop-and-frisks as being nothing more than part of their successful anti-crime program. Bullshit! It's part of criminalizing whole sections of people. Beating down and intimidating whole sections of people they hate and fear. This is intolerable. It must be opposed.

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