I recently found myself in a conversation with three White males. As we made small talk, one asked me, “So what do you think of this Stop and Frisk thing?” I took a moment before responding and asked, “What do you think about it?” The questioner responded, “I don’t know. Seems unfair. But doesn’t it make New York safer?”
Unfair? Yes. A safer NYC? Definitely not. I reminded my chat mate that only 2 percent of stops result in contraband being found and that 88 percent didn’t end in any summons or arrest. I told them by any metric it wasn’t effective policing but it could be seen as effective harassment of Black and Latino youth in New York City.
The men's eyes began to widen as I rattled off statistics and expressed my concern for my younger brothers and sisters who were too often viewed as the embodiment of delinquency by the New York Police Department. One man responded, “That sucks!” I responded, “Until people who are not likely to be stopped and frisked begin to conscientiously object to it, this practice is going to continue.”
One of the main issues with oppression is that it is most meaningful to those who experience it. If you don’t experience it, your privilege often blinds you to its presence and/or convinces bystanders there is nothing they can do to help stop it. We all have a stake in ending oppression and making our communities more safe and livable. With the launch of the “Stop and Frisk Watch” app by the New York Civil Liberties Union there is a way for all of us to become involved in ending police misconduct.
When it comes to stop and frisk, a new generation of Black and Latino youngsters are coming of age believing that having their bodies constantly searched, their intentions questioned and feeling under siege in their own communities is normal, if not natural. For years now, the Center for Constitutional Rights has been pressing the NYPD to release information on their tactics of stopping and frisking on the streets of New York. Each subsequent year the numbers get worse, but there has been little collective response from New Yorkers or nationally.
The most recent round of data found that stops and frisks have increased by 600 percent since Mayor Bloomberg entered office and that 9 out of 10 stopped were innocent. This systematic harassment masked as policing has resulted in there being more stops and frisks of young Black males than there are young Black males in New York City!
The over-policing of communities has not led to greater safety and ultimately destabilizes the relationship between community members and police. This week, the New York Civil Liberties Union in collaboration with a range of organizations released a smart phone app to combat stop and frisk. The “Stop and Frisk Watch” app, which is available for the Android platform, allows bystanders to monitor and report police misconduct. The app also allows recorded videos of the police to be uploaded automatically in the case that police confiscate the recording phone. The app is a product of multiple community groups working in coalition like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and Make the Road to help end police misconduct. The app is available in both English and Spanish and contains a module on citizens’ rights during interactions with the police.
Nationally, the right to hold police accountable by taping their actions has been affirmed federally but continues to come under challenge. Twenty-one years after the taped Rodney King beating and 3 years after the taped shooting of Oscar Grant III, the need to raise the level of police accountability is paramount and filming misconduct is one tool that is accessible. The sad reality remains that until those who are not the ones pressed against the hot hoods of police cars or with their pockets emptied on the sidewalks take notice and action against police misconduct masses of our young people will suffer from it.
Dr. R. L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York. His work concentrates on race, education and gender. You can follow him on Twitter at @dumilewis or visit his official website