We are in a crisis. Urban areas like New York City have reached a tipping point when hundreds of thousands of innocent people are stopped, interrogated, searched and humiliated by the NYPD for doing nothing more than walking to the subway, going to school or leaving work. The situation is so severe that for the first time I am co-writing my blog with someone who feels as strongly as I do about an injustice of epic proportions. In a city like ours -- regarded as the virtual epicenter of the world -- it is reprehensible that 87% of the over 685,000 people stopped by police in 2011 were Black or Latino, according to the latest figures. To us, that isn't coincidence; it's overt racism and profiling. As young people of color, we demand answers, and more importantly, we demand immediate reform.
This Father's Day, June 17th, National Action Network and the NAACP will be joined by activists, members of the clergy, unions, community leaders, students, professionals and more as we march down 5th Avenue in Manhattan to demand an end to 'stop & frisk.' We call on NY Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to denounce this policy and implement change without delay, for it is modern-day racial profiling that blatantly targets minority youth in this city. According to a WNYC analysis, one in five people stopped in 2011 was a teenager between the ages of 14 and 18; of these, 86% were Black or Latino. The data further shows that a young boy of color will almost certainly get stopped by the NYPD before he even graduates from high school.
Commissioner Kelly, Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD attempt to convey the message that stopping and searching minority youth somehow thwarts crime -- nothing could be further from the truth. As the NYCLU recently highlighted, even the police department's own reports prove that the policy of 'stop & frisk' yields absolutely nothing a majority of the time. In 2011, out of the 685, 724 people stopped by police, 88% were innocent, and in 2012 so far, 89% of those stopped have been found to be completely innocent. If the stated goal of this blatantly racist policy is to 'deter crime,' hasn't the NYPD failed miserably and confirmed that continuing 'stop & frisk' is nothing but a waste of tax dollars and an insult to people of color?
It criminalizes our youth, creates further distrust between the community and police, and doesn't do a thing to keep us safer. It used to be that we feared driving while Black; well in New York and around the nation, we now fear simply walking down the street while Black or Latino.
The injustice of 'stop & frisk' policies and their effect on racial minorities isn't something that the two of us observe from a distance; it's a reality that we cope with on a very personal level.
As parents of young children who -- according to statistics -- are virtually guaranteed to be stopped by police -- we grapple with the idea of how to teach them that cops aren't the enemy. How will we explain to them that being profiled, searched and harassed on the basis of your skin color is somehow still accepted in 2012? Learning of travesties such as the shooting deaths of unarmed Black/Latino men like Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, DJ Danroy Henry, Ramarley Graham and more, how do we begin to ease our children's fears?
As two young people who work for large national civil rights organizations, it's critical that we speak with one voice, in unity, on an issue that affects the communities and people we see everyday. The cries, fears and desperation of folks who are simply tired of the intimidation tactics of those sworn to serve and protect us. This is why we work in the cause of justice, and why we ask all of you -- especially the young people out here -- to join us on Father's Day. While we push daily to invoke hope, education, success, positive thinking and civic participation, practices like 'stop & frisk' seek to undermine us at every turn.
The day after the horrific NYPD killing of Sean Bell, an unarmed 23-year-old Black man shot 50+ times the night before his wedding, Marvin was stopped himself. Walking home from a basketball game on 145th St., he was profiled because police claimed he looked 'suspicious,' though there was no suspicion of any sort of actual crime. The unfortunate reality is that any one of us, whether we're a straight A student at Columbia University, or a Wall Street banker, or a small business entrepreneur, or a multi-million dollar rapper/athlete, or a nurse working three shifts, or an attorney leaving court, you may be considered a criminal in New York City by Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly simply because you are a darker hue than others.
The elders of the civil rights movement taught us countless lessons, not the least of which is to use the power of our voices to raise awareness on social justice issues and strive to bring about change. As young people in this city who are directly targeted and impacted by 'stop & frisk,' it is our duty to take to the streets on Father's Day and call for an end to this outrageous police tactic. The bottom line is, whether you're on 125th St. or Wall St., you need to stand with us because you are in fact a target, period.
All too often, we think these sorts of issues won't impact us -- until it's too late. Why is it that so many of us are unfairly searched, found to be law-abiding citizens, and yet our information is kept on file for 'future use'? Why do so many of us walk around in fear when we pass police? And why do the officers who patrol our neighborhoods not reside in our communities? If they do not know us, then they cannot distinguish between real trouble and what they perceive to be trouble.
No one is against the NYPD or the idea of stopping crime. But what we are emphatically against is biased practices that judge, profile, harass and criminalize based on ingrained prejudice. If we truly wish to decrease crime and improve relations with the police, we must demand an end to 'stop & frisk.' Every young person should join us -- along with his/her parents, grandparents, elder siblings, whomever, because the entire community is under siege.
Join us on the 17th to march down 5th Ave., and remember to work daily to combat injustice by contacting your local representatives/police departments to push for change at once.
As the city designed to lead by example, NY is sending a terrible message to the rest of the nation (and the world for that matter) by openly profiling Blacks and Latinos. We should be ashamed.
Tamika D. Mallory, National Executive Director of National Action Network
Marvin Bing, Northeast Regional Director for the National NAACP
Follow Tamika D. Mallory on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@TamikaDMallory