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Opposing Stop-and-Frisks With Education

Sunday, February 27, 2011

More than 600,000 people were stopped and questioned as part of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy in 2010. Police officials have long argued that the stops are critical to maintaining public safety, but in the eyes of some activists, the tactics single out minority residents and they're fighting back with what they consider their best weapon: education.

This weekend, in a nondescript conference room in midtown Manhattan, members of the People's Justice coalition arranged chairs and placed snacks on a table. A slide projector issued a provocative image onto a nearby screen: it showed the silhouette of a police officer, holding a baton threateningly as he stands over another person. Nearby, a pair of observers videotape the incident. The headline for the image, "Know Your Rights," also happened to be the title of the session.

One of the organizers of the training, Yul-san Liem, said New Yorkers had to be made aware of their rights during police stops because "the police are acting in improper ways all over the place, and it's actually a systemic problem."

People's Justice, according to one leaflet handed out at the session, includes the Audre Lorde Project, CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, the Justice Committee, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Movement Support Project, and Nodutdol: For Korean Community Development.

The leaflet also listed tips for those confronting the police:

  • "Say loudly 'I do not consent to this search' so that others can hear you. This can help if the cops use anything found against you in court. Your lawyer may get the evidence thrown out if the search was illegal."
  • "Say as little as possible and only answer basic questions (name, address, etc.)."
  • "If you are trans or gender non-conforming: it may be a good idea to carry a copy of your legal name change documents along with your ID."

For one attendee, high school teacher Dennis Flores, the sessions are a good way to help some of his students, some of whom have complained of being stopped by police.

"I want to pass on this type of information," said Flores. "I would like them to be better informed, so that they can avoid arrest, or if they do get arrested where we are able to provide resources for them to fight back."

Flores also encourages others to videotape police officers during stops, as a means of monitoring them.

"Most people out there believe that it's illegal to photograph or videotape police officers," he said. "But those who are informed know that that's not the case. Those are police officers who don't want eyes and ears out in the streets. If you have nothing to hide, if you're not doing anything wrong, then there shouldn't be a problem being videotaped."

One of the organizers, Steve Kohut, is with the group Justice Committee, and said he'd been stopped without reasonable cause by officers beginning in his early teens.

"If you can tell them, and knowingly tell them that you don't give them the consent to search in your pockets, then they know you know your rights," said Kohut. "It sometimes prevents them from violating you. Because they know they're dealing with somebody who's educated about their rights."

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne rejected the charge that officers single out minorities.

"We're out there saving lives, and we do it in an unbiased way," said Browne. "And we do it with the most diverse department in the country."

Browne added that officers were deployed only to areas where they are needed.

"Over 96 percent of shootings and homicides were committed by blacks and Hispanics -- stops happen in dangerous neighborhoods."

"We protect and save lives in minority neighborhoods," he said. "That's why 3,000 fewer black men are dead in the first eight years of [the] Bloomberg [administration] than in the first eight of Giuliani."

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Comments [2]

Steven from Brooklyn

A city eventually gets the police department it deserves. It seems to me sometimes that NYC has gotten a much better one for years now, but thanks to the strenuous efforts of these conference organizers, that will change, and the proper equilibrium will take hold.

Considering that few cops live in the citys most dangerous areas--what middle class person in her right mind would?--there is little incentive for officers to persist in doggedly figthing crime there if all it gets them is half a dozen video cameras in their face, verbal confrontations with every street scholar they meet, and frivolous civilian complaints. All that will impel them to protect the law-abiding poor from the vicious predators in their midst will be a sense of moral conviction and the orders of police bosses. These two things only go so far.

And the middle and upper classes will watch with safe detachment from other neighborhoods.

There was more blood on the streets of Brownsville in 2010 than in 2009, and there will probably be more this year as well. It won't be mine, it won't be Arun's, and it won't be the blood of any of the pro bono lawyers suing the city of stop and frisk.

It will be the blood of the people from the demographic that is being told to resist being stopped and questioned by the police. At least, perhaps the conference organizers think, they will bleed, or perhaps die, with more dignity.

Feb. 28 2011 11:33 AM
MasterG from Harlem: stop and frisk capital of the world

"Over 96 percent of shootings and homicides were committed by blacks and Hispanics -- stops happen in dangerous neighborhoods."

Is everyone in a neighborhood where a shooting occurred a suspect and should be searched for weapons?

The stats don't support the "saving lives" spin of police spokesman Browne.

The rate of gun seizures is near zero — 0.15 guns seized for every 100 stops. “The N.Y.P.D. stop-and-frisk tactics,” wrote Professor Fagan, “produce rates of seizures of guns or other contraband that are no greater than would be produced simply by chance.”

For more information, see Bob Herberts' NY Times article "The Shame of New York" Oct 29, 2010

Feb. 28 2011 12:43 AM

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