The oft-debated Stop and Frisk policy has become another unpleasant reminder of how racial profiling continues to run rampant. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, 685,724 people were stopped in 2011 and 84 percent of them were Black and Latino residents in New York City. 88 percent of all stops did not result in an arrest or a summons being given and contraband was found in only 2 percent of those stops. There has been a 30 percent decrease in the first nine months of this year, but this issue remains problematic at its core. The nonprofit organization Color of Change has embarked on the elephantine task of fighting against it. Rashad Robinson joined the organization in May 2011 as executive director to use his voice to address the numerous issues plaguing the Black community.
EBONY recently sat down with Rashad Robinson to discuss the Stop and Frisk policy and his organization’s plans to tackle it.
EBONY: What motivated you to become involved with the Color of Change organization?
Rashad Robinson: I’ve been involved with the Color of Change since May 2011. I signed on as executive director, but my involvement goes back a little bit further. I’ve been active as a member of Color of Change by signing petitions and I’ve known the former executive director for some time now. I was really motivated to join Color of Change after my niece was born. I started to notice things on TV in a deeper way than I noticed before. The images of Black folks that were coming through the TV screen really started to upset me because nothing was being done to tackle corporate media for what was being televised. I started to have conversations with a number of people in the civil rights field. As an activist at the time, I thought more could be done. I kept thinking Color of Change would be the right vehicle due to our membership being over 800,000 people with a powerful, unapologetic voice representing Black folks and an infrastructure that doesn’t accept corporate funds. I didn’t necessarily think I would be the person who would lead the effort, but as I started talking to James Rucker, he expressed his desire to step down and move on. That was the thing that started the conversation of me taking over as the leader for Color of Change.
EBONY: How has Stop and Frisk contributed to the widespread problem of mass incarceration among Blacks?
RR: The challenge with policies like Stop and Frisk is that the focus of law enforcement [in] the War on Drugs only targets certain communities. There isn’t a direct correlation behind drug use and who gets incarcerated. The fact of the matter is that every statistic shows that White folks use drugs at the same or higher rates than Black and brown folks. Black and brown communities are the communities which law enforcement are out stopping and frisking and arresting folks. It’s not just Stop and Frisk, but all sorts of avenues they pursue while enforcing the War on Drugs. Geographically, New York can be very small…[which] impacts everything from people being sent to jail, to people not being able to afford proper legal representation. In New York, it also impacts the voting process. The overwhelming majority of the prison population comes from seven counties in New York City, which are highly dense Black and brown communities in what is considered downstate. A large portion of those folks are sent upstate to prison, but they’re counted from redistricting and representation as residents from upstate New York. [And] upstate New York gets more representation because they have all these folks incarcerated from communities downstate that are now not getting the resources they deserve.
EBONY: Why do you think prominent political and law enforcement figures continue to promote this unjust practice of Stop and Frisk when it clearly encroaches on the privacy of American citizens?
RR: One, there hasn’t been a strong enough movement to take it on. We’re moving in that direction now. Two, there hasn’t been enough embarrassment placed on elected officials who support Stop and Frisk through their silence thus allowing it to continue. The police—not only in New York City, but around the country—have a lot of power over elected officials in cities. They’ve been able to control how politicians stand up on this issue. For us, at Color of Change, we believe all of these folks are accountable. We’re going to continue to do a variety of things to hold folks accountable who continue to support Stop and Frisk or through their silence they support Stop and Frisk.
EBONY: There has been a severe lack of national coverage regarding Stop and Frisk. Do you believe the media wants to ignore this growing problem in our society today?
RR: Well, I think part of the challenge is that the people affected by Stop and Frisk are not deemed as valuable by the media. Often times our corporate media has decided who is valuable. For instance, if White boys on the Upper West Side were being stopped and frisked on their way home from private school, we would have a ton of media coverage around Stop and Frisk. There would be a national outrage about it and we would be having all sorts of conversations probably at the same level when a young, White woman goes missing. The problem is that the folks who are being stopped and frisked aren’t deemed as valuable.∫
EBONY: What is Color of Change doing to fight Stop and Frisk?
RR: There are a couple of things we’re doing. One, we’ve done the traditional online organizing that we do around a lot of campaigns by getting folks from communities to sign petitions, but turn them out to rallies, which we’ve done in New York City. We’re getting them to reach out to their political representatives, to write letters to the editor and just a host of things to raise their voices around this issue. This is the first piece. The second piece is that the mayoral election in New York City is coming up in 2013. The Color of Change organization has nearly 40,000 members in New York City who will be doing a lot work to hold those candidates running to the fire on where they stand on Stop and Frisk, but holding whoever gets elected accountable on this issue. As well as putting support behind those folks who are on the right side of this issue. We’re also doing work with our coalition of local organizations throughout the city to support efforts around Cop Watch. They’ll be ensuring that folks who are doing Cop Watch are videotaping and tracking what is happening in their communities. They will be making sure they’re supported by technology and other resources to ensure that the videos they produce are moved quickly to the media.
Chris Williams is an internationally published writer. You can follow him on Twitter @CWmsWrites.