People’s university BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER IN OVERCOMING POVERTY New York - Summary #8, September 2012
Stop and Frisk, Crime Prevention, and Discrimination Over the past several months, stop and frisk has taken center stage in New York City’s local politics, community activism, and the everyday lives of this city’s citizens. In an effort to fight crime, the New York City Police Department has increasingly been using this tactic of stopping, questioning, and frisking individuals on the street they consider suspicious. Members, volunteers, and participants gathered together at the Fourth World House on September 20 th to discuss this policy and the impact it has on crime prevention and discrimination in our communities. The People’s University is a space where all forms of knowledge are validated, stories are shared and heard, and the struggle to overcome poverty and injustice is collectively waged. In a dynamic program, several groups prepared through discussion and action to present about their perspectives on stop and frisk and their experiences with law enforcement in their communities. We were also fortunate to be joined by our guest responder, Maxine King, a community organizer and co-founder of Families Against Stop and Frisk who shared with us a powerful story and inspiring message.
Preparation Group Perspectives To kick off our evening of discussion, we opened with three presentations from different preparation groups who shared their perspectives on the policy of stop and frisk and their interactions with law enforcement in New York City. Fourth World Movement volunteers Rachel Graham and Julia Sick started with a brief video about a recent protest against Stop and Frisk, called the Blow the Whistle Campaign. The goal of the action was to distribute about 20,000 whistles to people throughout the city on Thursday, September 13th and literally blow the whistles all over New York City to protest stop and frisk. We also heard from Eugene from Sure We Can, an organization located in Brooklyn that serves as the city’s only licensed, non-profit redemption center for recyclable bottles and cans. Eugene opened up to the group about the relationship between New York police officers and the homeless and canning populations. Last, but not least, the Fourth World Movement Youth Project performed a short skit prepared during a Sunday Workshop about the youth experience with stop and frisk and law enforcement. The skit was a dynamic display of what it looks like to get stopped and frisked by the police. Presentations were followed by reactions and impressions from participants—here are some highlights: Eugene: The police really harass homeless men or women a little more, even if you’re not doing anything; even if you’re just sitting down in the park or just walking. What do you want me to do? The streets are my home… I truly find that it's disrespectful. Especially when I'm not doing nothing to cause them to stop me. Just because I woke up as a black man this morning, I got the right to be harassed? I've been a canner for 20-some years and this area was one of my areas I used to push my cart through and do canning. The police are not too bad for canners, just so long as you aren’t blocking the streets or tearing bags open and making a mess. 1
Tina: For a person that is in a shelter right now, I see stop and frisk over there every day. A couple of days ago, my sonin-law just got stopped and frisked and went to jail for half the night. You know how all the black people couldn't sit at the front of the bus? Stop and frisk reminds me of that. They’ve brought us young people back to slavery times. When they locked my son-in-law up, he couldn't talk, he didn't know what he got locked up for. Because of what? Back in the days, what did they used to do? Throw you off the bus because of what? Your skin color. Stop and frisk reminds me of that.
Bilal: The common thing that I hear, especially from people that are working in survival economies, where the situation is already bad and you’re already living in poverty, [is that] there's this constant police presence [and] a selective enforcement of laws…But, you have people like yourself who are doing stuff like canning or you have people who are just trying to make a living who are street vendors who are constantly harassed by police officers. You're in a public space and you have a right to be in a public space. And it's unfair because you have just as much as a right to be in a public space as anyone else does. And so, I just think that first off that's deplorable practice because police officers should be people who protect. You have a right, a Fourth Amendment right, against unlawful searches and seizures. But because they are equating your race and socioeconomic status with reasonable suspicion, they're stopping you on the street.
Kora: [The skit] reminded me of my brother in law, because when I was in the park with my nephew they came and stopped him for nothing. They did the same exact thing. They didn't say [anything about] what happened. And when my sister came over there they didn't even attempt to tell her why he was getting locked up. They just threw him and put the handcuffs on him and put him in a car. Malcom: To me, I think cops just do stuff because they feel that they work for the law so they think they can just do whatever. Jessica: My question to everybody is, what do we do as citizens in this state? How do we protect ourselves [to prevent] this from happening? How can we prevent it? Because a lot of people don't know their rights. So, when it happens they just let it happen. So, what do we do as citizens in this state to prevent this from happening? That's my question.
Crossing the Line Breaking away from discussion and dialogue, attendees participated in a brief exercise facilitated by Samantha Simpson and Julia Sick designed to provide a visual representation of our differences and commonalities. In this exercise, participants stood around a line set-up on the floor in the middle of the room. The facilitators took turns reading a series of ten statements related to stop and frisk, police presence and perception, and discrimination. If the statement read was true for a participant, they were asked to step forward to stand on the line. The exercise sparked an engaging dialogue about our different experiences with police presence in our neighborhoods, racial discrimination, community action, and the injustices caused by misguided policing. Samantha: When I was growing up and when I used to go see my family, I didn't care if the police was around or 20 cop cars. Even when I saw cars driving around and heard the cops say, ‘It's okay, we got everything under control,’ sure enough, two or three hours later, bap bap bap. Instead of a cop car, it would be a medical examiner. There would be people outside crying and everything.
among ourselves and we need to have environments that help us build communities, build understanding, build dialogue. It's not prisons [or police] that will stop crime from happening. We have to face the reality. We have police now. They are at our service. So, let's tell them, there are young people that happen to be dealing with things they shouldn't be dealing with. I feel as a white person in this country a huge responsibility to do something. Why? Because I am not profiled and because I am not a target. And if we, the ones who are not targets, are not capable of being there and explaining and saying you are a human being like me. We need respect. We need to have policemen in this society, but not for this. Marcia: We all get classified if they're looking for somebody. The tall skinny black guy. Tall skinny red head. That's what they have to go on sometimes. On the other side of the coin, when we had a community meeting with the seniors at Evergreen Street, a lot of people in the neighborhood said they were nervous coming out of the subway. So, they asked the police, would you come and park your car [there]? I feel less fear of the police because they were willing to work with us. And for the next couple of weeks I saw them there, just so that everyone could walk down the road safely. I like to be supportive of the police because when you do need help, they will be there for you.
Tina: I'm for the police, don't get me wrong. But I'm not for the police coming out in the day and stopping me and asking me dumb questions. Ask me questions that mean something to me. We need police for crimes. But certain, crimes. And our political people are the crimes. If we go and check how many congressmen don't get stopped and frisked, we're going to come up with a whole lot of people. That's why stop and frisk reminds me of the old days, back to the [60â€™s]. We are getting crucified again. Not just black people. It's the white, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Japanese, French. I don't care who you are. You are getting targeted.
Elise: I stepped up [to the line] for 'have you ever been profiled by the police' because I have, but it worked out well for me because I'm a white girl. I realized that I would have had a lot harder time [talking to the cops] if I looked like pretty much anyone else. Since I am aware of things like stop and frisk, I'm also aware that I am very much not the target. So, I felt a little weird stepping up to the line for the profiling thing, because it hadn't been negative. Babette: When there is violence around and you get hurt by other people, that makes you upset. I agree and support to be against the violence against young people and against racism. But, I also think that we need the police. I'm very happy when I come back home late to have the police around. I feel safe. I also grew up in a very poor neighborhood and I know that it can happen to you, it can happen everywhere. Cristina: I know that I am white, I'm not profiled. I've never been stopped. It is not true that we need police. We need safe communities where people have [jobs]; where people have the right to live [and] have the right to a house. We don't need police in any country, in any community, in any place. We need to learn to solve our issues
Charles: I was struck that quite a few people walked up to the line, when the question was 'have you ever been stopped and frisked?' And that's a terrible thing. But also, I think every young person of color has to be worried all the time that it might happen to them. So it's not just the act, it's the atmosphere that is created. And people should not have to have that worry. Nadine: One of the things that saved me from being stopped and frisked is that I have grey hair. And it's probably the only thing, because my color sets me up for stop and frisk. Period. Female, professional, doctor, whatever. It doesn't matter. Nobody of color is safe from stop and 3
frisk. I don't care who you are. My neighbor is an attorney. He's in his 60's and he was stopped three times. He looks very middle class or whatever you want to call it. The last time he was so angry that he said, I'm a lawyer. And one of [the officers] said, you can't be a lawyer. I raised two black kids in Bed-Stuy and my son has been stopped so many times. He's in private school, with professional parents, and a brownstone home. It doesn't matter. Please don't be surprised. We should know that this is happening. I am afraid of cops. Period. Andre: Essentially, the black community is under siege. We as black people live different lives from people who are white and live in New York City. If you're black you have to worry about one, the criminals, and two, the police. Fabio: Arrest is violence. I think stop and frisk should be redefined as a violent act. And if you think about it that way, then there is this mass organized violence being executed on a certain class of people. You can think of that as war. War is organized violence and stop and frisk is a silent war being waged all the time against certain people. It's really scary. There's a political motivation behind it to disenfranchise and depower a whole class of people. One way to end stop and frisk is through community action, because community action is a way to harness the power of a certain group of people. When you exercise community action, you are fighting against this violence. You're preventing your power from being taking away.
Dialogue with Maxine King Following the break, we heard from Maxine King, community organizer and cofounder of Families Against Stop and Frisk. Maxine shared a harrowing account of her experience of being arrested in Harlem after standing up to a police officer who was stopping and frisking her neighbor’s son. Maxine was ‘thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and thrown in the back of the car.’ Upon arriving at the precinct, she asked to have her handcuffs loosened, at which point a female police officer ‘threw her on the floor’ and Maxine ‘felt her shoulder snap.’ She appeared in court still wearing her hospital gown. Nine months later, Maxine is still ‘going back and forth to court’ desperately fighting for justice and is even ‘prepared to go to trial.’ This traumatizing experience inspired Maxine to ‘mobilize folks in her community…and start a group called Families Against Stop and Frisk,’ which provides support to families who have been negatively affected by stop and frisk and other police practices. After listening to Maxine’s story, participants shared their impressions and were inspired to think about possibilities for community action and advocacy. Maxine: 685,000 blacks and Latinos were stopped and frisked last year alone. That is just the ones that were reported and documented. A black boy born in 2001 has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison in his lifetime. A Latino boy has a 1 in 6 chance of the same fate. 1 in 9 black and 1 in 20 Hispanic, 1 in 57 white children have an incarcerated parent. There are more adult African Americans under correctional control, today, than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the civil war. In 2011, our state and federal prison population exceeded that of all the European nations combined. These numbers are scary. We are the free world, right? However, our communities are under siege. I've lived in my neighborhood for thirty one years. For most of those years, I thought that I was in a pretty safe community. I kept telling my children, you know, if you get in trouble, always look for a police officer. However, that started changing when my children turned into teenagers. This issue of stop and frisk affects [young people] in a most traumatic way. I am the mother of seven children, five of which are male. I worry about my children on a daily basis when they go outside. December of last year, I was coming home and I saw my neighbor's kid up against the wall. This is a practice that I see quite often. I see kids who as soon as they see the police they throw their hands up against the wall because they've internalized that this is what is going to happen. Well, my neighbor's kid was against the wall and I stopped and I asked the officer, why is he up against the wall? Why are you searching him? And he said, Mind your business. And I said, He is my business. And he said, Step away. And I said, No, I'm concerned. This is my son... 4
The officer proceeded to go through his book bag and I informed the officer that stop and frisk was illegal. And no sooner had I said that, and I was thrown to the ground and someone had a knee in my neck and another person had my arms twisted behind my back and my face was touching the ground and they handcuffed me. It was just devastating. I ultimately went to court in a hospital gown. I didn't start off in a hospital gown. I started off in a mink coat and I was dressed. I'm still going back and forth to court. I was in court today. I'm prepared to go to trial.
say to the police, you guys are here to protect and serve, right? Protect and serve the people. Not protect and serve certain people. And terrorize others just by the color of your skin. I say no more.
What that did for me was it sparked something inside of me. If that happened to me, it's happening every day in my community. It's happening to young people and poor people that don't have resources to fight. So, I started a group called Families Against Stop and Frisk and we support families whose young people are going through court. It makes a difference when a kid is going through arraignment and an attorney meets him because someone from our group called and said this person needs some support. For us, as organizers and supporters and family members, silence is violence. We need to speak up. We have to take our communities back. And we have to
Samantha Dantzler: It's also not always about the police because a lot of kids and a lot of people don't know they're rights and don't know the well-being of what to do in a situation, too. So, everybody comes together and then informs each other. That way we can educate each other. But if we just sit back and don't take action, it's just going to keep going on and on.
Darnell: You see young people outside doing illegal things, drugs and all this and they get arrested. I'd tell the young people, don't do that. Go to school...We should protest and go to everybody's projects and protest. Do better. Do better. Not do bad. Do better. Don't go back, go forward.
Cristina: When we start acting, because we are profiled, it's too late. Most people start being concerned when they are targeted. What kind of society do we want to be? One that is made of people in classes where you have different rights? I want the same rights for every citizen independently of the color of their skin, of their age, of their nationality, of whatever. We are all human beings. There are people who commit crimes and they need to face that. But when the solutions we give to those young people that start having some drugs on them it is that you go to jail and from there you go nowhere else. Because from jail you get out and then you go back.
Conclusions Over the course of the evening, participants shared a diversity of experiences and perspectives about the policy of stop and frisk, crime prevention tactics, and discrimination by law enforcement in New York City. Nearly all who spoke touched on a particularly difficult or striking story about their interactions with New York City police officers—from being violently arrested and humiliated by members of the NYPD to witnessing direct tangible results from community cooperation with law enforcement officials. These stories, and the openness with which they were shared, are testimony to that fact that police practices and policies have a strong and wide-reaching impact on our daily lives and communities. It is clear that change and reform is necessary before we are able to hope for more stories of cooperation and an end to those of violence and fear. Stop and frisk is an urgent issue that requires the attention of all citizens of New York; it is one that we must come together to discuss, evaluate, and change. We ended the discussion on an inspiring note, most appropriately summarized by Maxine King’s passionate call to action: ‘We need to speak up. We have to take our communities back. And we have to say to the police, you are here to protect and serve. We’ve got some work to do then, right?’ Fourth World Movement People's Universities provide a forum for people from different backgrounds to meet and learn from one another. They highlight the participation of everyone in the struggle against poverty, with an emphasis on the participation of people with an experience of poverty and exclusion. For more information or to take part please contact the People’s University New York Steering Committee via email@example.com Tel 212 228 1339 - Fourth World Movement, 172 First Avenue, NY 10009 - www.4thworldmovement.org
Summary of the September People's University main session on the theme of Stop and Frisk, Crime Prevention, and Discrimination.