While jogging down the street a few years ago, I suddenly found myself surrounded by at least three unmarked vehicles and several plainclothed white men with guns. They ordered me against a car, patted me down and, after a minute or so of undecipherable conversation between them, without any explanation, calmly walked back to their cars and drove off.
I am the co-founder of a community organizing group that works to build grassroots power. But on that day, standing three blocks from my own house in Central Brooklyn, I felt powerless.
I’m not alone. Brooklyn is the city’s most stopped-and-frisked borough. The NYPD’s report for 2011 — which documented a record 685,724 stops — showed that three of the borough’s precincts ranked in the top five citywide. In Bedford-Stuyvesant alone, there were 14,495 stops in the 79th Precinct and 13,651 in the 81st in 2011.
It’s tempting to conclude that this is an unavoidable response to crime. In Central Brooklyn, where I live and work, the threat of crime is real and visceral. Already in 2013, in some categories, violent crime is trending higher in the 79th and 81st Precincts than in 2012. And after a series of random gun-based massacres across the country, the nation is finally coming to grips with the horrors of gun violence.
Unfortunately, stop-and-frisks stand freakishly outside legitimate attempts to address public safety or the threat of guns. Levels of gun violence in our city have remained nearly unchanged during the 11 years and three months of the Bloomberg administration, despite the fact that the use of stop-and-frisk increased more than 600% through 2011. Contrary to assertions by the Mayor’s office, which otherwise seems genuinely committed to national gun control efforts, stop-and-frisk has not been an effective method of removing guns from our communities. Less than 1% of 2011 stops led to the recovery of a gun.
The Bloomberg administration misleadingly claims that the NYPD conducts stops based on suspect descriptions. The NYPD’s report on 2011 stops includes statistics related to crime suspects, but the fact is that the majority of stops — more than 87% between January 2010 and June 2012 — are not triggered by suspect descriptions at all.
Widely known by now, is that nearly 90% of those stopped and frisked are not arrested or issued a summons — that is consistent across the last 11 years. The Constitutionality of the Bloomberg administration’s stop-and-frisk policy is currently on trial in federal court.
But this issue goes beyond statistics and the violation of civil rights. Stops eat away at the trust that a community should have in the people whom they rely on for basic safety and order. They also bypass opportunities to build meaningful partnerships between local stakeholders and designated peacekeepers.
As a community organizer, my job, literally, is to find ways to improve the quality of life in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, rather than looking at the police as allies, I more often view them as an occupying army. Similarly, as a father of two young boys, I shouldn’t be forced to explain that I or they might be stopped one day by the police simply because we are black or Latino, or because we live in Crown Heights.
There is a way to address stop-and-frisk abuses in the form of the Community Safety Act legislative package, which is designed to help end discriminatory police practices. The City Council is progressing toward passing the inspector general component of the act. The Council should also advance the rest of the package promptly, in particular the ban on discriminatory profiling, to make sure all families are afforded the same rights — no matter what neighborhood they live in or the color of their skin — and to ensure there is effective oversight of the NYPD.
At the end of the day, all any family wants to be is safe. Ending stop-and-frisk abuses will allow us the freedom to focus attention where it is truly needed: On reducing gun violence, improving schools and ensuring the health of our communities.
This article was originally posted in the New York Daily News.