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Latino Stop & Frisk

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From the Zoot Suit riots in Los Angeles to the garbage fires set by Young Lords in East Harlem, urban Latino youth have had to overcome predators in Blue. Some relief came with the wave of successful discrimination challenges that integrated the ranks of police with Blacks and Latinos. Law enforcement began to adopt community policing models as one of the few proactive elements to their repertoire, and by and large probable cause and its lite-counterpart, reasonable suspicion, ruled most encounters.

Now decades after the havoc created by Nixon's ill-fated but still perpetual War on Drugs our urban police are modeled under a Cheneyesque paradigm of prevention. It's called Zero Tolerance Policing (ZTP) and like the War on Drugs it operates under a racial construct. ZTP is never activated in the business class brothels of Manhattan because most of the Johns are white, nor is it deployed on Wall Street where cocaine trafficking is legendary. Similarly, the so-called War on Drugs is never a real war in America's malls even as the profile of a typical drug user in America is a white male.

Nor is ZTP played out in a black-white binary in urban America. No señores, Latinos are also disproportionately targeted by an overzealous, quota-driven police force in many of our cities.

New York City is the classic example; indeed, it is the ground zero of over-policing. In 2002 at the start of the Bloomberg administration about 97,000 persons were subject to the Stop & Frisk effort. That's now increased seven times with over 685,000 persons ensnared in 2011.

Latinos have definitely felt the impact. The first serious study of Stop & Frisk was by then Attorney General Elliot Spitzer whose groundbreaking 1999 report, analyzing over 175,000 incidents, confirmed what our Latino residents experienced day in and day out: even when you control for crime, Latinos were more likely than whites to be stopped. Even worse, stops of Blacks and Latinos were less likely to result in arrests than concomitant stops of Whites. None of these unsettling conclusions have eroded even with today's data.

In 2012, with Stop & Frisk continuing unabated, it seems like the more we complain the more Commissioner Ray Kelly and his occupying forces conduct Stop & Frisk. And Latinos are disproportionately found within its web. The most recent Stop & Frisk report by the NYCLU concludes that not only are Blacks and Latinos disproportionately subject to these practices but 90% of young Black and Latino men stopped were innocent.

The stakes are higher now as the positions have hardened for and against Stop & Frisk. Commissioner Kelly still walks on water in NYC - murders are down, so why stop Stop & Frisk? Outgoing Mayor Bloomberg - who admitted to inhaling marijuana and liking it - still presides over the marijuana arrest capital of the world in a State - get this - that decriminalized marijuana possession decades ago. That's over 50,000 low-level pot busts in 2011, second-highest in NYC history.

On the other side Black, Latino and progressive White elected officials have increased the volume of their critiques. Many Black and Latino electeds have their own personal narrative here, having been picked up unnecessarily by the NYPD sometime in their own past. Trying to channel those real lived experiences into police reform in Albany is so far ringing on deaf (White) ears, however.

Fortunately, it appears that the NYPD practices are finally going to be a mayoral election issue in 2013. More data is being released under public information access laws. Current and former officers of the NYPD are revealing the pressure they underwent to concoct the pretexts for "lawful" stops and frisks. Lawsuits are continuously filed: suits to stop the practice outright; suits to force the disclosure of data; suits to stop the subset of unwarranted trespass arrests in public housing projects; wrongful arrest suits that generate money damages; and last month's suit to stop trespass arrests of residents in their own private apartment buildings dubbed "hallway stop and frisk" (where LatinoJusice PRLDEF is part of the team of lawyers challenging the practice).

Ever wonder what behavior would justify the Stop & Frisk of a Black or Latino resident of NYC? The number one reason? The incomprehensible "furtive movement." For that behavior hundreds of thousands of inner city residents are harassed daily.

On top of all this activity is a groundswell of resistance. Civil disobedience protests garner the involvement of folk like Cornell West at the behest of leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton, George Gresham and Ben Jealous. Now the makings of a serious Latino contingent is making headway as well including Hector Figueroa, Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU, Councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito from East Harlem, and the undersigned.

A Father's Day Silent March is in the works on June 17 at 1 p.m. in Harlem. Stay tuned for the backlash.