In the wake of President Obama's re-election, we may forget how much race truly matters in present-day America. Unfortunately, it does. It is a day-to-day reality for countless individuals, dividing us along lines of housing, social services, employment, and above all criminal enforcement.
In 2002, the New York City Police Department began drastically ramping up a practice that it refers to as Stop, Question, and Frisk. From just under 98,000 stops in 2002, the numbers skyrocketed to 680,000 stops in 2011.
In a city of slightly over eight million individuals, this means that nearly one out of 10 New Yorkers are officially stopped, questioned and often frisked by a police officer at some point during the year. Citywide, force is used by the police in almost a full quarter of these interactions. In certain precincts, force is applied more than half of the time.
Yet, ask around and much of the city has barely even heard of this practice.
This is because the racial disparities in the implementation of Stop, Question and Frisk are staggering. Eighty-seven percent of New York City residents stopped by the police are people of color. This percentage holds true whether the neighborhood is white or black, Latino or Asian in composition.
For the past two years, I have been directing a documentary about a class action lawsuit, Floyd vs. The City of New York, brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights. The lawsuit alleges that the NYPD routinely engage in racial profiling while conducting Stop, Question and Frisks.
My work on this documentary has led me to interview dozens of New Yorkers from all over the city. I've talked with residents of Harlem and the Bronx, of Fifth Avenue and Brooklyn. I have encountered a lot of passion, several doses of outrage and far too much sadness. Nearly everyone who has been stopped feels they were treated in a disrespectful and aggressive manner by the police. By their own police force.
One Bronx resident I interviewed powerfully stated, "It's getting to the point where I feel as though we're being patrolled instead of being protected. It's as if they want us to stay confined in our homes."
We can only begin to ask ourselves what sort of deleterious effect this sort of policing is having on communities around New York. We can however surmise what it is doing to relationships between the police and the communities they are sworn to protect. Most pertinently, we can imagine how this affects the countless innocent people, who have been stopped, harassed, and far too often physically assaulted by the police.
Only 6 percent of these stops lead to an arrest. Only 0.15 percent of these stops turn up a gun. Yet, in the words of Todd Clear, Dean of the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice, 100 percent of these stops do something to that person being stopped, to that police officer conducting the stop, and to the people who are watching the stop.
The police should be allowed to stop, question and frisk. But they should do it with courtesy and respect, and without bias. For the moment, this is not the case.
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