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Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Tag Archives: NYCLU

Housing Piece of Stop and Frisk Deemed Unconstitutional!

Photo: NY Daily News

Photo: NY Daily News

On January 9th NYC witnessed a historic blow to its Stop and Frisk Program.  A federal judge ruled that “Operation Clean Halls” – the aspect of the Stop and Frisk program which operates in private apartment buildings – is unconstitutional.  We’ve written about the racist nature of Operation Clean Halls on our blog several times.  There has been testimony after testimony after testimony of folks – almost exclusively people of color – being harassed or worse by police in or just outside of their own apartment buildings. Wednesday’s ruling is specific to buildings in the Operation Clean Halls program in the Bronx, but community activists and lawyers hope it to be extended city-wide.

NPR’s Michel Martin spoke to John Jay professor Gloria J. Browne-Marshall about the ruling.  Browne- Marshall explains the legal backing behind this ruling:

Under Terry versus Ohio in 1968, police are given the authority to conduct stops-and-frisks if there is imminent danger to the officer or to the public. Here, now we’ve drifted down to a level of – we’re no longer looking for guns. We’re no longer looking at imminent danger. We’re just saying, is this person loitering in a private facility? And, to the point where – are they loitering outside? Loitering and being arrested for stop-and-frisk is not what Terry versus Ohio allowed and so that issue right there raises it to the level of an unconstitutional stop, detaining of the person and the actual touching of the person by a police department.

Not only are people being stopped in buildings without any signs of immediate danger, but the people who are stopped are disproportionately people of color; 84% of all stops are men and women of color.  If this doesn’t enlighten us about the racist nature of this program, I don’t know what could.

NYC’s Stop and Frisk program is being attacked on several legal levels.  On December 20th an appellate state court ruled that the city is not legally allowed to keep their online database of over 360,000 people who were stopped and frisked by the NYPD.  The fact that the records are being stored electronically violates NYPD’s need to seal their records.  “‘This is a victory for privacy and the rule of law,’ said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, lead counsel in the case. ‘It pulls the plug on the NYPD sprawling electronic database of innocent black and Latino New Yorkers.’”

One other legal blow that Stop and Frisk and the  NYPD face is a national lawsuit filed (again) by NYCLU which challenges the arrest of a Brooklyn woman who recorded a Stop and Frisk incident outside her house.  NYCLU’s press release reports:

[Hadiyah Charles ] used her smartphone to record two NYPD officers as they questioned and frisked three black youth whom had been innocently fixing a bicycle down the street from her Bedford-Stuyvesant home. The police officers tried to prevent Ms. Charles from filming the encounter by shoving her, handcuffing her, arresting her, and holding her in a jail cell for 90 minutes.

This is clearly problematic.  The more we can hold NYPD accountable for their harassment of New Yorkers, especially black and brown youth, the better. NYCLU is actually promoting recording incidents of Stop and Frisk.  They have created a smartphone app meant for recording incidents, and as a know-your-rights tool.  We need to continue fighting in the courts and in the streets until the entire Stop and Frisk program is dismantled!

End Racial Profiling and Police-ICE Collaboration! SB1070, S-Comm and Stop and Frisk

Today’s announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the “show me your papers” section of SB1070, Arizona’ notorious immigration bill, came as an unwelcome shock to immigrant rights advocates.  While this decision does not seem to directly impact New York City or the tenants we work with, the consequences are vast.  Not only have there already been several copycat laws passed and even more introduced in various other states, but this law highlights the blatant racism that guides our immigration and law enforcement systems.

As a reminder, SB1070 is the controversial immigration law implemented in the summer of 2010 designed to help the national government better enforce its immigration laws in Arizona. The bill essentially allowed for police in Arizona to act as immigration agents by asking for papers and detaining suspected undocumented immigrants.  The law also made it a state crime to be undocumented in Arizona and to work without papers.

The Supreme Court deemed three out of the four aspects of the law in question to be unconstitutional, but left the most controversial piece of the bill intact: police must ask those they deem “reasonably suspicious” to be undocumented for their immigration papers.  It has been argued several times over that this piece of the legislation necessitates police to use racial profiling since there is no way other way for police to guess someone’s immigration status without judging by someone’s appearence.

While a copycat law has not yet been introduced in New York, several other policies are in place which institutionalize racism in law and local immigration enforcement.  Secure Communities (S-Comm), recently reinstated statewide, is a national immigration program expected to be nationwide by 2013.  Like SB1070, this program creates distrust between communities of color and the police  since it allows for ICE and police collaboration, though in a less direct way. Through S-Comm, ICE can access and run immigration checks on local fingerprint databases.  The result has been a massive increase of deportations of people stopped for broken taillights or other non-criminal actions (the official reason for the program is to deport undocumented people who pose a threat to society).

A second widely criticized program which has served as a way to institutionalize racism in our communities is Stop and Frisk.  This New York City program is under a high level of scrunity by communities of color, activists, and increasingly elected officials. According to a report issued by the NYCLU,

Although they account for only 4.7 percent of the city’s population, black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for over 40 percent of stops last year. Nine of every 10 was found innocent. Even more alarming is that the number of stops of young black men exceeded New York’s entire population of young black men.

The report also reveals that while black and Latino New Yorkers are overwhelmingly more likely to be frisked than whites, they are less likely to be found with a weapon; police found guns, drugs, or stolen property on white suspects about twice as often as they did on black suspects. Overall, for each frisk, a weapon was found only 1.9 percent of the time.

Stop and Frisk’s faction “Operation Clean Halls” even more directly impacts tenants we work with since it allows for Stop and Frisk to take place in private apartment buildings.    Through the program, police are able to enter buildings and Stop and Frisk tenants in lobbies and hallways of their own homes.  To read more about this program, click here to read a past blog post.

Programs and laws like SB1070, Secure Communities, and Stop and Frisk do not make our communities safer.  Instead, they develop mistrust and fear of law enforcement, and we must get rid of these programs in order to live in a safe world devoid of racism.  To get involved in the conversation addressing S-Comm and Stop and Frisk locally, attend a forum this Thursday at 6:00 at Hunter School of Social Work.

Staying Safe in the Big City: Useful Apps for Your Smartphone

Ever gotten angry at the dude on the train who’s sitting just a little too close?  Ever felt like dinner from the restaurant down the street was not sitting well, perhaps due to rats in the kitchen?  Thanks to your smart phone and the dozens of useful apps, you need not worry anymore!

Projects such as NYC BigApps have encouraged New Yorkers to develop phone apps meant to improve the safety and efficiency of the city.   Winners of BigApps’ contest have developed apps such as “Work+” (locates good spots to work out of the house), “ParkAlly” (helps find your parked car or negotiate parking swaps), or – our personal favorite – “uhpartments” (reports nearby buildings’ housing code violations).

These types of apps are nothing new (relatively).  In 2010, the NYTimes reported on an app which encourages victims of street harassment to record their experiences and location, serving as a tool to discourage harassment and empower New Yorkers break the silence surrounding street harassment.   Emily May, executive director of Hollaback told the Times that:

“The Internet speeds everything up,” Ms. May said. “If we as activists can’t get the Internet to speed up social change, then we’re not doing our jobs.”

City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn recently gave the Boreum Hill based non-profit $20,000. The increased access to internet for New Yorkers, particularly though smart phones, allows for a new type of monitoring of crime and harassment, as well as allowing us to be better informed about the type of neighborhoods we live in.  We can be empowered to take more of a part in recording and staying informed about the spaces we inhabit and what is going on in those spaces.

The Stop and Frisk App, developed by the NY Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) was released this week, and designed to keep tabs on the controversial NYPD program. An NYCLU analysis has reported that:

Out of 684,330 stop-and-frisk stops, 87% percent of those stopped in 2011 were black or Latino, and nine out of ten persons stopped were not arrested, nor did they receive summonses.

The app’s main purposes are to:

Record: This allows the user to film an incident with audio by simply pushing a trigger on the phone’s frame. Shaking the phone stops the filming. When filming stops, the user immediately receives a brief survey allowing them to provide details about the incident. The video and survey will go to the NYCLU, which will use the information to shed light on the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices and hold the Department accountable for its actions.

Listen: This function alerts the user when people in their vicinity are being stopped by the police. When other app users in the area trigger Stop and Frisk Watch, the user receives a message reporting where the police stop is happening. This feature is especially useful for community groups who monitor police activity.

Report: This prompts the survey, allowing users to report a police interaction they saw or experienced, even if they didn’t film it.

The app will be used as a way to document publically where Stop-and-Frisk is occurring, how police are conducting themselves during the process, and engage the larger community in the monitoring process.  As organizers working in buildings with tenants who are almost exclusively people of color, Stop-and-Frisk (and its partner program Operation Clean Halls) certainly impacts the tenants we work with and the general safety of the community.

We at UHAB call for an end to Stop-and-Frisk in New York City!  In the meantime, this app (like many of the other innovative apps meant to improve NYC) is a great way to engage the community in holding the city and the police force responsible for its racist policies.

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