A mystery billboard campaign is spurring some conversation on the streets of Brooklyn.
The new ads states in bold letters: “Don’t Want to Get Stopped by the NYPD? STOP BEING BLACK.”
The bright blue billboard is part of a larger campaign called RISE or Racism Still Exists created by an anonymous group whose mission “is to illuminate some of the ways in which racism operates in this country,” according to their Tumblr page.
For the past six months, this mystery group has been posting new billboards every month — each one conveying a different theme of racial inequality. The ads are all brightly colored with graphic black images and detailed with statistics to highlight issues of racism towards the African-American community.
“Although public commentary describes the United States as ‘post-racial’, [sic] racism continues to exert a very real and pervasive influence on institutional policies and processes, interpersonal interactions, neighborhood infrastructure, socioeconomic opportunities, media imagery, and more,” the site says.
This month’s billboard puts in the spotlight the controversial police practice known as “Stop-and-Frisk,” where an officer initiates a search of an individual on the street allegedly based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
This tactic has spurred national criticism for its reported racial profiling of minorities, primarily African-Americans and Latinos.
According to the ad, 52 percent of the more than 600,000 people who were stopped in 2010 were African-American.
Furthermore, of those black people stopped, 98 percent of them did not have contraband on them.
“What the billboard is doing is kinda opening up and exploding this myth that [Stop-and-Frisk] is taking place in a race neutral light — it’s making people confront it in a very real way,” says Kali Akuno, an organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, to Colorlines. “I applaud the effort. If the intent was to shake things up, I think they did their job.”
The group has chosen to feature this campaign in Brooklyn’s neighborhood Bedford-Stuyvesant along the Metropolitan Transit Authority bus shelters. Known as Bed-Stuy to locals, the area has been historically known to have a large African-American presence.
According to a 2011 New York Times article, 60 percent of Bed-Stuy residents identify as black.
Additionally, a 2012 study on gentrification named Brooklyn the 25th country’s most rapidly-gentrifying zip codes according to the Fordham Institute.
And artists agree that these info-graphic billboards have been successful in illuminating issues of racism in the community.
“This campaign is a simple and well-designed idea to trigger discussion. It is graphically powerful and very rock and roll,” writes Carol Juarez, from the art news site Base Now. “Street communication is a manner of aggressive communication that empowers the core of the message. The idea of the posters is very clear and direct at the same time. Using a strong initial visual impact, viewers are directed to a website containing straight forward and interesting content.”
From the entertainment industry to education, RISE billboards have dipped into a variety of topics, citing statistics and visual analysis to convey how racial inequality exists. Each billboard is also accompanied by a detailed Tumblr post with more details about a particular issue.
Their first ad featured side-by-side images of the movie characters Mammy, from Gone with the Wind, and Minny, Octavia Spencer’s character from The Help. The ad boldly states “Rewarding Black Women for Playing Servants for 73 Years.”
Despite the project’s provocative statements, there’s still speculation as to who may be financing the advertising space for these controversial ads.
A Metro Transportation Authority representative told theGrio that subway billboards along the bus shelters run on average of $6,000 per month.
Follow Brittany Tom on Twitter @brittanyrtom.