Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) stops and frisks well over a half a million New Yorkers every year. You know that that are glaring racial disparities in who gets stopped. You know that the courts are increasingly critical of the practice, with one judge decrying the city's "deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers' most fundamental constitutional rights." The issue has been litigated in two successive court cases since 1999, last month 10,000 people marched down Fifth Avenue in silent protest, and even the New York City Council is taking aim at curbing stop-and-frisk abuses through proposed legislation.
But unless you've been stopped yourself, or you live in city neighborhoods where hundreds of people get stopped each day, you don't know what it's like to live under these conditions. You don't know what it's like to walk around feeling constantly targeted; when "you're a person of color; you already 'fit the description,'" as one man put it. You may not understand the corrosive effect of living in neighborhoods that are described as "an occupied zone" where residents feel "like you're in an outside prison," as another described it. It's hard to comprehend what it's like to grow up and be stopped regularly on your way to school or told by the cops you can't play outside the building you live in. Or what it's like to walk by a school and "see all these little kids lined up, with their legs spread, holding [onto] the wall, and the cops are going through their pockets."
These stories and dozens of others have been collected and are being released today in a first-of-its-kind report that looks at the stories behind the stop-and-frisk numbers. "Stop and Frisk: The Human Impact" was researched and written by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the organization that has led the legal fight to end unlawful stops, first in the Daniels v. City of New York case that brought an end to the NYPD's infamous Street Crimes Unit and now in Floyd v. City of New York, which is challenging the stop-and-frisk policy as racially discriminatory and unconstitutional. The report is an intimate look into the experience and devastating consequences of a practice that has upended the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. We wrote it because behind every cold statistic logged in NYPD records there is a human being, and the true toll this practice takes on our city cannot be understood without hearing these stories.
A police stop in New York City is not a minor inconvenience. It is a frightening and humiliating experience, one that more often than not leaves people mistrustful of the police and changes their daily routines. Some are physically abused or sexually harassed, but even stops that are not abusive in these ways are inherently abusive of the spirit: "When they stop you on the street, and then everybody's looking...it does degrade you," one woman explained. People live in fear; they make sure to take ID with them, even if they're just going out to walk the dog. They think twice about inviting friends over, because their friends always get stopped on the way. "When the police come around, I make sure to keep my head down," one 24-year old told us. "I'm very cautious of where I go....at this point in my life, I take transportation, literal transportation, like bus and train. I don't really walk anymore."
Entire communities are targeted and feel targeted - Black and Latino men above all, but also LGBTQ people, homeless and low-income people, immigrants, religious minorities and youth. Residents in some neighborhoods feel like they are living under siege. "There's this constant fear that...police are going to intimidate and harass you," one of the people CCR interviewed said. "Sitting on your porch or going to the store or like having fun in your community -you don't really get to do that because you have police presence in the street all the time."
Perhaps the most depressing quote we got during our research was this: "It's so frequent, we don't even talk about it or complain about it. It's to be expected."
This is what life has become for people in the supposedly greatest city in the leading democracy of the world. It is more than just our citizens and our neighborhoods that are under siege - our Constitution is under siege, our humanity is under siege.
There is a growing movement that is fighting back, through litigation, through legislation, through protest. "Stop and Frisk: The Human Impact" reminds us all of what's at stake in this fight. You can download a copy of the report here.