Stop-and-frisk: Black NYC youth reflect on controversial NYPD practice

OPINION - All of the eight boys invited by theGrio to speak on their experiences said they feel paranoid when they see members of the NYPD as a result of their treatment by police...

This week, a judge ruled that Stop and Frisk violates the constitutional rights of New Yorkers who have undergone this policing practice of the NYPD, which many find violating. Young black and brown boys make up the majority of those stopped and checked, whether they are travelling to and from school or work, or just hanging out in their neighborhoods.

David Wilson, founder of theGrio, spoke with a group of young men of color from New York City aged 16-19 recently about how they feel growing up in this era. They face both tremendous inspiration in the form of figures such as President Obama, and also great challenges, such as the specter of being stereotyped.

These young men were joined by Khary Lazarre-White, the executive director of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a youth empowerment organization located in Harlem with members of both genders who have endured Sop and Frisk, and felt harassed by the protocol.

Men of color speak out

This talk, featured in the video above, included young men of color from The Brotherhood, joined by youths from the Arches mentoring program of the Harlem Commonwealth Council in New York City.

Together they shared their experiences with what they feel amounts to being targeted by police.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have stated emphatically that Stop and Frisk is not implemented based on the race of those chosen to be checked. Yet, of the over four million times people have been stopped and checked for weapons, drugs and other signs of illegal activity between 2004 and 2012, 80 percent of those stopped have been black or Latino.

The federal judge referred to this result as “indirect racial profiling,” because of the disproportionate nature of the stops. Blacks and Latinos each make up less than 30 percent of New York City’s population.

But much more telling than a review of the hard numbers is listening to how the practice, which, rarely yielding drugs or guns is seen a crime deterrent, impacts the minds and lives of young people who are often profiled.

One young man shares his story

“Me and my friend, we were walking up our block,” D’Andre Simpson shared with theGrio regarding an experience he had being stopped.

Even though he was walking in his own neighborhood, recent gentrification had rendered pockets in his area predominately wealthier with white residents — and there had been a crime.

“Where we live at there are a whole lot of apartment buildings, but when you go up the block it’s totally different, it’s like brownstones and condominiums,” he explained. When Simpson and his friend turned to walk down the more affluent street, a police car appeared to trail them.

“I said, ‘don’t look at them,'” Simpson continued, hoping this advice to his friend would prevent the police from stopping them. It didn’t work.

“They stopped us,” he said. “They said there was a robbery, and ‘You fit the description.’ I had on bright red pants and black sneakers. My friend had on yellow pants. How we fit the description?” Simpson asked the police. But Simpson said the officers did not give them an answer. They were stopped, checked, and let go.

Yet, the message the 18-year-old received was that he had no right to walk down a street adjacent to his home.

“In my mind, they stopped us because of the way we looked and the area where we were at. It was basically an all-white neighborhood,” Simpson said. “I didn’t like that.”

The emotional cost of Stop and Frisk

Wilson listened to all the young men who chose to share their stories of how it feels to be stopped. They all related feeling paranoid at the sight of NYPD officers, no matter what area of the city they may be travelling in, as a result of their treatment by police.

“Does everyone know that’s not a normal feeling?” Wilson asked of their visceral reaction to these authorities. They concurred with Wilson’s assessment, but NYPD practices such as Stop and Frisk had already created indelible wounds in these young men’s psyches.

“I don’t feel safe in no type of way when I see the police,” Jules Phillips, 18, shared.

Stop and Frisk: Further alienating youths of color

The practice of Stop and Frisk, which is supposed to produce a sense of safety for all New Yorkers, is creating a persistent state of fear in those upon whom the practice most befalls, in the name of benefiting everyone else.

Mayor Bloomberg among other supporters of the tactic say Stop and Frisk is responsible for the large drop in murders the city has enjoyed, but this correlation may just be a coincidence. Black and Latino young men — we know for sure — are suffering in the meantime, when there may be other reasons for the drop in violent crimes.

Many of these men are already suffering from social marginalization through low high school graduation rates and high rates of unemployment.

Stop and Frisk leaves them not feeling safer, but even more socially alienated. To them, Stop and Frisk is an expression of the perception that they are potential criminals merely for being men of color, trying to make it in often difficult environments.

This is a crushing weight for any teenager to bear.

Watch the video above to hear more voices of those directly impacted by Stop and Frisk. Is its possible impact on public safety worth the long-term damage to young men of color and their self-esteem?

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.