Civil rights groups are pushing the NYPD to change its stop and frisk policy and 17-year-old Radio Rookie Edwin Llanos thinks a change might help police gain more people's trust. He's grown up in neighborhoods where officers stop kids all the time -- and a lot of those kids don’t trust cops to help when they're in need. One 2009 study by the Southern Economic Journal suggests kids who don’t trust police look to gangs for protection. Last year, when Edwin got into a tough situation, he wasn't sure who to turn to.
Broadcast: Monday, November 1, 2010
Title: “Who’s Going to Protect Me?”
HOST INTRO: Civil rights groups are pushing the NYPD to change its stop and frisk policy and 17-year-old Radio Rookie Edwin Llanos thinks a change might help police gain more people's trust. He's grown up in neighborhoods where officers stop kids all the time -- and a lot of those kids don’t trust cops to help when they're in need. One 2009 study by the Southern Economic Journal suggests kids who don’t trust police look to gangs for protection. Last year, when Edwin got into a tough situation, he wasn't sure who to turn to.
EDWARD: How you feeling?
EDWIN: I’m feeling nervous. I’m shocked.
NARRATION: I was coming home from a party with my cousin Gabe. It was a summer night and it was late. We ran into a group of guys walking down the block.
GABE: They give us like you know some bad looks and we’re just talking, minding our own business and they said “oo-ay”.
NARRATION: Gabe didn’t understand what “oo-ay” meant, but I did. These kids were testing me. They’re in a gang that’s rivals with the Latin Kings.
EDWIN: I heard “oo-ay” and I’m like, “Wow, these guys think I’m King,” --cause I know that call.
NARRATION: I told them I’m not King and one of them smiled and said, “Nah, you’re King.” That’s when he started chasing me and I kept running past my house. I didn’t want him to know where I live.
EDWIN: I’ve never been chased down like that, that was the first time.
NARRATION: For a few weeks after that I was afraid. I wanted to do something but I felt stuck.
NARRATION: So I went into my brother’s room and asked him for advice.
EDWIN: What’s up, man?
EDWARD: What does this guy want from me, Emerson?
NARRATION: He was changing his baby’s diaper.
EDWARD: Alright, what’s up?
EDWIN: What if I bump into these kids, what if I see them? What can you suggest me to do?
EDWARD: Listen, I don’t mean to sound like a punk or a coward but honestly Edwin--yo, there’s nothing you can do. There really isn’t. You can’t really expect to fight them cause you’ll lose, you’ll lose.
NARRATION: And my brother says going to the police won’t make it any better.
EDWARD: Word will get around that the kid that they tried to jump snitched ‘em out to the cops and if they don’t personally beat you and me up, they’ll easily send some other idiots that have nothing to do with their lives to do the favor for them. Right, Emerson?
EMERSON: [baby noises]
EDWARD: Alright, let me put you down.
NARRATION: For me and a lot of kids growing up in New York, this is how it is: If you have a problem you have to decide who you’re gonna ask for help. And a lot of gangs seem just as strong as the police.
[kid rapping in the school hallway]
NARRATION: At all the high schools I know, kids get together and form little gangs, called sets. They usually start off with a handshake.
BRYAN: You go like this like this, you go like this, you go like this…
NARRATION: Most little sets fall off but some of them become bigger and more violent gangs.
That’s what happened with my cousin. Let’s call him Chris. He’s 17 and joined a little set in Jersey that rose up fast.
CHRIS: If I’m in a gang and you in a gang, and I have problems you have my problems, you get it? The difference is, I actually have people I could call. If I get jumped right now, I could call like 50 people.
NARRATION: I admit, I used to hang out with the Latin Kings, and people assumed I was one of them. They called me King Capo – I didn’t correct them. I even stashed a couple of knives at the bottom of one of my drawers, until my dad found them.
DAD: When you were sleeping I always searching you, I looked your pants, I looked everything in your room.
EDWIN: Why’d you take ‘em away from me?
DAD: Because I want to protect you, I don’t want you to get in trouble.
NARRATION: My dad always gave me the basic message every parent says: that gangs are bad, you’ll end up hurt, doing things you don’t want to do. But unlike some parents, my father told me not to trust the cops either.
DAD: That’s what most of the children they don’t understand. They get involved in problems and they don’t know that the system is stronger and they could do whatever they want with you.
NARRATION: When I was 13, I was at a party—the police came and raided it.
DAD: They, they broke your head, was blood on your face…
NARRATION: When my father got there I was on the ground getting handcuffed for resisting arrest.
DAD: They tie your hands and get you in the car.
COMMUNITY COUNCILWOMAN: Good evening everybody. If you’ll all stand we’ll do the pledge of allegiance.
NARRATION: There’s plenty of people that do trust the police. I met some of them at a community meeting--and it seemed like they love cops.
NOTE TAKER: A jewel of a man, a hard working family man.
NARRATION: This lady is the note taker. She sat at the front table with the commander. He was bragging about how his officers have cracked down on teenagers doing burglaries.
COMMANDER: You would never think that young people--13, 14 and 16 years of age--would be doing this within our community…
NARRATION: It’s not only burglaries that have the cops worried—it’s also all the kids joining little gang sets.
CAPTAIN DEE: So they survive, those small little cliques, probably more than they did 15 years ago. We didn’t have as many.
NARRATION: The cops at the Gang Division Headquarters say gang membership is up. This is Captain Rich Dee.
CAPTAIN DEE: They hand out applications.
DEPUTY CHIEF BOYCE: Yeah.
CAPTAIN DEE: It’s like a job interview. It’s amazing.
[car door slams]
NARRATION: Now, I’m getting in the car with two gang squad detectives, doing a drive around in Queens. They told me to put on a bulletproof vest. And I thought for a second, “Why do I need this? Cops are untouchable.” But I guess they’re not.
DETECTIVE JACK: What do you guys think, cup of coffee maybe?
EDWIN: What about donuts?
DETECTIVE JACK: Ahhh, you know why cops eat donuts?
NARRATION: Being in this car wasn’t bad. It was actually pretty cool.
DETECTIVE BENCOSME: See, now those are all MS-13 gang guys.
NARRATION: I felt like they were good cops just doing their jobs.
DETECTIVE JACK: What’s up fellas?
NARRATION: We pulled up to a group of gang members that were hanging out on the corner. The detectives asked them a few questions and searched them.
EDWIN: Have you guys like ever been scared like doing this job?
DETECTIVE JACK: I’m scared right now.
DETECTIVE BENCOSME: I think everybody’s scared. I think you always gotta be scared.
NARRATION: I asked one of the detectives what advice he would give a friend of mine that got chased by gang members. I didn’t tell him it was me though.
DETECTIVE BENCOSME: Your friend, he should come to the NYPD make a report because if god forbid something happens to him and his family, we’ll know ahead of time who was involved or what the situation is. I mean he’s not snitching; he’s doing the right thing for him and his family.
EDWIN: What, you miss me?
CHRIS: You so hairy!
NARRATION: Remember my cousin Chris? The one that says he has 50 guys backing him up? Over the summer he ended up getting stabbed on the side of his forehead.
EDWIN: Yo, what’d your friends say about it?
CHRIS: They hit me up, they be like, “Yo, when we gonna go do something?”—this, this and that.
EDWIN: What about the cops you don’t wanna like get them involved or anything like that?
CHRIS: Um um.
EDWIN: Why not?
CHRIS: They don’t do anything anyways. They gonna be like, “how you know that was them?” And I’m gonna be like, “Cause they told me.” And then when I be like, “They told me,” they’re gonna want to get those people that told me involved. You get it?
NARRATION: This year, my little brother Ricky started high school with me. He’s not a kid to look for any problems.
MOM: [in Spanish]
NARRATION: My mother says, “He’s more on the humble side, and he keeps to himself.” But she still worries about him.
EDWIN: Has any of those Crip kids asked you to join their gang?
RICKY: You gonna tell Mommy?
EDWIN: [laugh] Nah, I won’t tell her, I promise.
RICKY: I mean, it’s crossed my head a couple times, like watching other kids. I mean, like I would think if they got that much respect just for being in a gang, why couldn’t I get it?
NARRATION: If Ricky gets caught in a situation like I did and comes to me for advice I’ll tell him the same thing my older brother told me.
EDWARD: You just have to take the loss and have to walk with your head down, you know so you can avoid these idiots.
EDWARD: See? He agrees.
NARRATION: But I’m still teaching him how to punch, how to fight—
Because if no one else is gonna protect you, you have to protect yourself.
For WNYC, I’m Rookie Reporter Edwin Llanos.