Stop and Frisk: “Reform” Debate Continues

As a result of powerful organizing and strong city-wide coalitions, Stop and Frisk has become one of the major issues that Mayoral Candidates have been forced to address.  Democratic mayoral candidates who did not seem critical enough of NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policies suffered in the election. Earlier this summer, the courts ruled that the way the NYPD has implemented Stop and Frisk is unconstitutional.  In attempt to improve police practices, Judge Scheindlin appointed an independent monitor and mandated that certain groups of police in high-crime areas must wear cameras. While we view this court ruling as a moral victory, we remain skeptical about how Stop and Frisk can remain in place in a just way.

Bloomberg and the NYPD are doing everything in their power to maintain Stop and Frisk as it is, and challenge the court’s ruling. This week, the union representing NYPD sergeants filed paperwork to appeal the court ruling, as well as to demand a seat at the table to help decide how the reforms will be implemented.

On the one hand, this seems fair- it’s their jobs and they’ll have to be the people carrying out the reforms. Just like we support teachers being involved in education reforms, perhaps police need to be involved in this process.  But when you dig deeper their role in conversations around reform becomes murkier- the NYPD sergeants are the very people who have been carrying out the unconstitutional practices. What’s more, they clearly do not believe that the program needs reform- which is why they are working to appeal the ruling.  If they don’t believe in the need to change their practices when those practices are clearly damaging, why should they have a seat at the table?

Stop and Frisk greatly impacts our work at UHAB. The tenants we work with are almost exclusively people of color, and Stop and Frisk policies (as proven over and over again) disproportionately impact communities of color. As a result, neighborhoods are deeply affected- from the way that people view the police and safety, to the way that they feel monitored and policed in their own homes.

Even “Operation Clean Halls,” the Stop and Frisk for privately owned apartment buildings, was deemed unconstitutional. But so little has changed. The NYTimes reports that:

Judge Scheindlin excoriated the Police Department for persisting in making illegal stops and arrests outside private apartment buildings — even after prosecutors had pointed out that they were wrongful.

There is a similar class-action lawsuit in the works claiming that stops in NYCHA buildings are discriminatory:

One resident, the president of a public housing leadership group, testified that life for families harassed by stop-and-frisk policies in their own apartment buildings was like life in a “penal colony.

Last week, Picture the Homeless  screened its new film “Journey Towards Change: Victory Over NYPD Profiling.”  According to Picture the Homeless’s website, “this short film includes interviews with our members, glimpses of activists in action, and reflections on what we’ve achieved and how much work we still have to do.”  To check out the film or get involved with Picture the Homeless’s work around Stop and Frisk, contact Shaun Lin at shaun@picturethehomeless.org.


Remember Amadou Diallo: Stand Up Against Police Brutality and Racial Profiling!

diallohead2-thumb

14 years ago today, 22 year old Amadou Diallo was shot at 41 times by the police in the doorway of his apartment building in the Soundview section of the Bronx.  Amadou was unarmed and a recent immigrant. His murder sparked widespread protest against the NYPD, and has become symbolic of the mistrust between the police and communities of color. In October, the officer who initiated the shooting was reunited with his gun. This fact adds to an increasing sentiment that the NYPD’s practices are in opposition to the best interests of most New Yorkers. In the past year, the relationship between New York and the boys in blue has deteriorated drastically, particularly in communities of color.

NYPD policies:

While we recognize that many NYPD officers support and work towards the best interest of the community, most are required to participate in the policies listed above.  These tactics instill a dangerous fear of law enforcement and dissuade us from standing up for ourselves and our communities.

Often when organizing in buildings, particularly in the Bronx, we hear that tenants are afraid to speak out against the horrible conditions that they suffer.  Some tenants are afraid of the landlord, some of their immigration status. As organizers, we work to empower communities, facilitate them coming together and facing something seemingly frightening together. Through organizing, demonstrating, and demanding changes, we can change the police system into the empowering body that it should be, into something that will uplift our communities.

Join Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice TODAY to honor Amadou Diallo’s life and to END police brutality and racial profiling:

Who: YOUTH MINISTRIES FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE
What: Amadou Diallo Rally & Prayer Vigil
Where/When: 6:00 PM – Meet at Youth Ministrites for Peace and Justice, 1384 Stratford Avenue, Bronx NY
6:15 PM – March Starts
6:30PM – Prayer Vigil Starts @ Amadou Diallo’s Home, 1157 Wheeler Avenue, Bronx, NY 10472

For more information, click here

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!

Small Win for Communities against “Stop and Frisk,” but It’s Not Enough!

Rally against Stop and Frisk in San Francisco 7/2012

A small but important victory took place last week for communities against “Stop and Frisk”, the controversial NYPD program.  The program, which allows police to stop people and frisk them for drugs and weapons, has been under fire from all directions for targeting people (particularly young men) of color. As we’ve written before, an offshoot of “Stop and Frisk” is the “Operation Clean Halls” program in which landlords allow police to enter buildings to implement stop and frisk policies in order to stop potential trespassers.  Unfortunately, like most factions of this racist program, it is the tenants and the guests who suffer.  The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the NYCLU have filed lawsuits against the program, and have collected case after case of tenants who have been targeted and policed in their own homes.

Last week, the Bronx District Attorney announced that it will refuse to prosecute anyone charged with trespassing unless the arresting officer is interviewed to ensure that the arrest was actually warranted   In a letter from Jeanette Rucker, the DA’s bureau chief for arraignments stated “in many (but not all) of the cases the defendants arrested were either legitimate tenants or invited guests.” (As reported by the NYTimes.)

The hope is that through interviewing the arresting officers, less innocent victims will be charged with trespassing.  As I’m sure readers are aware, there are all sorts of consequences when a person enters the complicated and flawed criminal justice system, which greatly impacts their future.  When someone comes in contact with this system unjustly time and time again- particularly to young men of color- there is an enormous impact on the community at large.  All I’m saying is someone in power should read “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander.

While the change in the Bronx’s DA is positive, it is clearly not enough.  Not only should all DA offices in the city follow this new policy, but we need to continue to push for the end of “Stop and Frisk” and heavy policing of communities of color altogether.  We need to rethink our criminal justice system in a way that moves apart from SB1070, Secure Communities, and Stop and Frisk.  We need a more creative and just system that protects us rather than one that results in collective punishment.

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.

S-Comm: End It, Don’t Mend It!

As many of you are aware, the never-ending confusion surrounding Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s program Secure Communities continues as two recent reports were released, and ICE plans to extend the program nationwide by next year.  Just this week, Montana and Washington implemented the controversial program, bringing the total to 34 states. Through Secure Communities, all fingerprints collected by local police are checked against ICE databases, supposedly meant to locate and deport undocumented immigrants with criminal histories.  Unfortunately, the program has sparked widespread fear in immigrant communities, and has proven time and time again that regardless of criminal history, immigrants are being deported for minor violations.  In addition, several reports have shown that Secure Communities discourages women who are victims of domestic violence to call the police for fear of deportation.   When police can act as immigration agents, who can we trust to protect us?

Met with powerful organizing, lawsuits, and media attention, ICE has revoked the program in three states and several cities, including NY.  This proved that states could opt-out and the question remains if this is this possible again.   ICE wants to “fix” glitches in the system such as mass deportations of immigrants with no criminal backgrounds or widespread abuse in detention centers, while immigrant and activist communities have called on ICE to “End It, Not Mend It.”

UHAB organizers stand with immigrant communities in the call to end Secure Communities now!  As tenant organizers, we work to build power and confidence in buildings to stand up for their rights and improve their communities.  Racist programs like “Stop and Frisk,” “Operation Clean Halls” and “Secure Communities” instill fear in, and create tensions between communities and the police.  Only through real policy change and engaging communities honestly can our country create safe places to live for everyone living here.

We need to work together to make sure this program does not spread nationwide!  Check out the End It, Don’t Mend It campaign here where you can sign petitions and stay updated on the campaign.