Image via Flickr user j-No.
In New York City, your skin color can get you stopped. Between January of 2002 and June of 2012, the New York Police Department conducted about 4.4 million stop-and-frisks, a practice which entails police officers approaching pedestrians, questioning them, and checking their persons for weapons and other illegal items.
The policy, which has been spearheaded by police commissioner Ray Kelly, has come under fire from politicians and citizens alike—a recent federal court ruling declared that the practice itself amounts to “indirect racial profiling.”
In her ruling, Judge Shira Scheindlin cited statistics showing the number of stop-and-frisks has increased dramatically in New York City during the latter years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, climbing from below 50,000 in 2003 to over 200,000 in 2012. 87 percent of those stopped-and-frisked in 2011 were African-American or Latino, and in 2011, police only found weapons on a mere 1.9 percent of suspects.
Recently, these statistics motivated the New York City Council to pass the Community Safety Act, which established a legal ban on racial profiling and appointed an inspector general to oversee the conduct of the entire department.
With legislation now in place to provide citizens with some jurisdiction over their fate in unjust instances of stop-and-frisk, there is some hope that the next mayoral administration will ameliorate the practice all together. But in a city where young people of color are sometimes forced to record the indiscretions of the NYPD in order to prove their innocence—there’s even an app for it now—racial discrimination is still palpable and very real. Stop-and-frisks continue to happen, and although there's been much talk about the NYPD’s racial profiling, we've heard little from those who have been unjustly stopped-and-frisked. This week, we spoke to three innocent men who were stopped-and-frisked. These are their stories.
Between February 2008 and August 2009, Clive Lino was stopped by the NYPD at least 13 times. The police never discovered any weapons belonging to Clive, but the NYPD still kept electronic records of Clive's name and address. In 2010 Clive filed a lawsuit against the city of New York. Last month, he won the lawsuit, and the city agreed to stop electronically storing the names and addresses of people who are stopped by NYPD officers and later cleared of criminal activity. We spoke to Clive about the events that led to his lawsuit.
VICE: What was it like to be stopped by the police?
Clive Lino: There’s a feeling of embarrassment. They make me feel like I have done something even though I haven’t, because I’ve been stopped so much. Now when I do see officers, I’m kind of on edge. I would look out for them before I would look out for somebody trying to rob me.
Were you also frisked when they stopped you?
I think about 90 to 95 percent of the time, I’ve either been frisked, searched, or something. They don’t just like stop me and ask me questions.
You were stopped and frisked around the same time you filed the lawsuit. What happened?
At that time, I lived at my mother’s in East Harlem in George Washington housing. On 103rd and Lexington Avenue, we got some Chinese food. We came outside this door to wait for the food to be cooked, and officers just came out and started asking us all a bunch of questions, making it seem like we had done something. And then they searched us and said they were stopping us because of my friend, but they searched both of us. They called for backup. The backup guys came and searched us again. They ran our names in the system. They had us in front of this store for like half an hour, and they kept asking us the same questions. I told them, “I’m answering all the questions, and you keep asking the same questions over and over.”
Do you feel safe walking around New York?
Yeah, I feel personally safe. But when I see officers I get all timid and nervous—like I did something when I haven’t done anything.
Image by the author.
Le1f is a rising New York based rapper, who has gained attention for his flamboyant style and ability to make club bangers that discuss serious issues like his homosexuality. At the annual Afropunk Music Festival in Brooklyn, Le1f told us about the time he was stopped-and-frisked on the way to an interview with a magazine.
What happened when you were stopped by cops?
I was on my way to another interview. I was on my way to meet up with the [magazine] one day, and I’m in a cab. I get out having had an argument with this cab for [dropping me off] in the wrong place. The cops saw that I had some issue with the driver but mind you, it was a $20 cab. I gave him $30 for taking me to the wrong place. So I get out of the cab and under the bridge on Delancey Street, and they stopped and frisked me, put me in handcuffs, and asked me what happened. I had to stop the cab driver. It was a whole situation. They wanted to know what happened with me and this cab driver, and put me in handcuffs without reading my rights and all that kind of shit.
Do you view stop-and-frisk as being a problem in the city?
Le1f: Stop-and-frisk is obviously a problem. It’s like allowing people to harass people. It reminds me of Jim Crow. It’s legit like a Jim Crow law. I feel like we’re in this weird place in the states, where everyone commodifies information because we get it from the internet. I understand how that could be effective for helping political situations, but I feel like it also has made a lot of people not activists in the way that they might be. I feel like everyone wants to read about Trayvon Martin at their computer and shake their head and sigh and not do anything about it. Not to say that I’ve done something about it.
A screenshot of Steve Ferdman's Reddit comment.
Recently, Steve Ferdman commented on a Reddit thread about stop-and-frisk. We emailed him, and he agreed to tell us more about what had happened to him.
When were you stopped-and-frisked?
Steve Ferdman: Last summer.
What happened when the police approached you?
A plain-clothes cop tapped me on the shoulder from behind and said, “Hi.” Three other plain-clothes cops surrounded me and pulled their badges over their shirts—they were tucked away as they initially approached. One reached into my pocket grabbing my Leatherman pocket tool. They then asked me where I was from, if I had ID, and why I had or needed a Leatherman pocket tool. Bewildered, I explained that I often use the tools to tune the carburetor on my motorbike and to take the seat off my bicycle when I park outside. Then, I asked for clarification as to why he was reaching into my pockets without my consent for something that is readily available at 100 percent of hardware stores in America. Rather than answering, they quickly finished running my ID, handed it back to me along with my multi-tool, and said, “Have a nice day.” They then all stood there mean-mugging me as I walked away.
Do you think stop-and-frisk is racial profiling?
With regards to stop-and-frisk, it's obviously a racial profiling issue. I think people would be less offended by stop-and-frisk if it were enforced in all areas equally—I'd actually have a blast watching tourists and wealthy folks get stopped-and-frisked. If you can arrest a black teenager for a dime bag of weed, why not stop an investment banker and lock him up for the bag of cocaine in his pocket? Sadly, you'll never see random searches on Madison Avenue. It's an uptown and outer-boroughs thing—which is why it's deplorable.
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