I moved out here in 2009 to attend New York University for graduate school on scholarship and live in Brooklyn. I was first stop-and-frisked probably three or four weeks after arriving. Since then, unfortunately, I’ve been stop-and-frisked three more times, a total of four times in the past two and a half years.
The reason I’m willing to talk—I don’t stop for anyone who is passing out flyers or soliciting—is it’s something that I feel very strongly has to stop. Whatever it takes to get rid of it, I’m all for it. It’s really something that has alienated me from the community. I will never call the police for anything. It makes me want to police myself before I would ever trust them with anything. It builds a lot of disloyalty between the citizens and the police.
I’m college-educated with two degrees from two top schools and I’m still treated like a criminal. I’ve never stolen anything, I have no record. I’ve never had a record. I’ve never been arrested or finger-printed or anything of that nature. But the sad fact of the matter is that I’ve been apprehended four times because I fit the description. It’s something that really has affected me negatively. It really puts you in a corner where you don’t know where to go. I filed reports on all the police officers that have done this. I followed up and nothing was done. It makes you feel helpless as a citizen. I can honestly say at this moment that my feeling toward the New York Police Department as well as police departments around the country is very poor, extremely, extremely poor, to the point that I don’t even really like to see police officers or speak with them. If they were lying on the ground out of thirst, I wouldn’t give them a cup of water. So really, it doesn’t do the community a service; it’s doing everyone a disservice. The citizens—the law-abiding citizens of the community—feel like we can’t even interact, can’t even speak with the police department.
I’ve experienced several different tactics by the police. In the first instance, the police officer actually came up to myself and a friend, who was at an Ivy League graduate school in New York City. He said, “You know what this is“—he literally came up to us and said, “You know what this is.” Neither one of us, of course, knew what was going on. He then asked us for our IDs, took our IDs—we both have California IDs, we’re from California—told us both that we have fake IDs, and then proceeded to tell us that if our ID’s weren’t fake, why were we in New York? So there was this whole conversation about why, essentially, our existence was illegal, why it was illegal for us to be in the place we were in. We happened to be in a park this first time, and he actually kicked us out of the park. His excuse in this particular instance was that we didn’t have any kids with us, and if we didn’t have any kids with us, then we couldn’t be in the park. That was Incidence One.
The next several incidences were all in the same area of Bedford-Stuyvesant where I reside. The second time I was walking with about three friends, walking down the street in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The police car actually pulled up on the side of us, put us on the fence, actually went through our pockets, took our IDs, scanned our IDs. No one had any warrants or had anything against them. It’s kind of going about your business without any other conversation. That’s pretty much the context of the subsequent three stop-and-frisk situations that I’ve been in. I mean literally if you went through a line of myself and the rest of my black male friends, whether they’re on Wall Street, whether they’re in graduate school, we all have stories and we tell them when we get to barbecues, when we get a chance to sit around because that’s really our only outlet.
I tried to go to the police and complain about it. When I was in school I brought in the police to actually talk about it and have a conversation with other community activists about it. It just seems over and over like nothing is being done and it’s almost that this policy is being celebrated around New York City. It looks like if they had their way they’d spread it around the United States. So something has to be done. I’m very excited to see things like this, and really willing to do whatever it takes to get rid of it.
It’s really dehumanizing and I really mean to say that because at 25 years of age I’ve never stolen anything in my entire life, literally. I don’t do illegal activities—nothing!—and to be treated like a criminal is dehumanizing. You can probably hear it in my voice—I really dislike the police. And it’s not something that I should feel because, you know, I’m not doing anything wrong. There’s no reason that I should have a poor relationship with the police department, but it’s really been because of the stop-and-frisks. Now I can honestly say, you know, I don’t cry very much but after the first instance I broke down, I just cried. For 15 or 20 minutes. It’s just a rough situation.
One of my friends is on Wall Street. He’s actually much higher up than I am. He was driving with a group of friends. The police officers pulled his car over, pulled shotguns on each of the four passengers to their windows, had them get out of the car, laid them on the floor, handcuffed them to the floor, went through their pockets, ran their IDs, again, going through the same process that they did with me. When nothing was found with them, after about a 45 minute ordeal, it was again, “Thank you for your time, you may now go.”
Another friend, a graduate student, was going down the street in the East Village, with a closed bottle of alcohol in a bag in his hand. He was walking with another friend. By the way, when I say “closed” I mean sealed, just purchased. The police officer told him to go to the side, stopped him, went through his pockets, took his ID, and ended up taking his bottle of alcohol, saying that it was illegal for him to have a closed bottle of alcohol in a bag.
No one’s been taken to jail because, of course, they haven’t been doing anything. No one’s been given a citation as, of course, they haven’t been doing anything. If you look at it in the grand scheme of things you could say everyone got off scot free, but the fact of the matter is, we didn’t. We all are horribly scarred. It’s not been beneficial to anybody. It has no benefit.
At this stage in your life—I’m in society, I’m really a productive member of society—you would think that you would enjoy all of the fruits of society, all of the benefits, right? But the police department here, as I stated earlier, is something I would never call on for any reason. If I was in a gun fight I would take care of that before calling the police. I literally can’t think of anything that I would ever call the police for because I don’t trust them. I don’t like them. I don’t like to see them. I don’t have good feelings when I do see them. If a police officer walked by right now… as a matter of fact, here’s a story. Yesterday I went to Staten Island to see one of my children—in a program, not my biological children. I got lost in Staten Island, saw several police officers, but instead of going over to ask those police officers for help to get me where I was going, I completely passed them up and continued to wander for several minutes, until I saw a regular citizen that looked like me to ask. So what it does for black professionals — although I’m here, I’m doing all these great things in the city — it alienates us from the system that’s here to protect and serve, as it says on their badges.
I’m no longer a kid. I’m no longer doing childlike things, so it seems like we should be able to enjoy these same fruits that they’re saying are here for everyone. As a black professional, it just does not make you comfortable. It does not allow you the same ability to enjoy those fruits as everyone else. It’s very alienating.
No matter who I’m with, professional or not, I expect for us to be treated like human beings. And that’s the thing that we’re lacking. There’s no human interaction in the stop-and-frisk policies. There’s a police officer and there’s a criminal. The sad fact of the matter is that the vast majority of these people being stopped are not criminals. These are regular citizens, regular law-abiding citizens. And what’s happened is that they may catch one or two people, but trust me, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, it’s turning everybody against them. If the police officers came to my house, said something happened down the street, and wanted to ask me a question, I’d slam the door in their face. ”No, I won’t help you solve anything. Go figure it out yourself.” I’ll say again, it really does everyone a disservice. It’s not productive and I wish we could sit down with community members, with political figures, with teachers, with whoever needs to sit down, sit down with police officers and figure out the best way to go about this because this is just not doing anybody any good right now.