“I’m going home to my abuela’s this weekend; I hope I don’t get stopped….”
Jacob Serrano is a 19-year old sophomore at Bronx Community College, majoring in Criminal Justice. This winter Jacob is serving as a Communications and New Media Intern at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. He will continue his studies at John Jay College beginning next fall.
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Since the first election of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2001, there has been a dramatic increase in the police practice of “Stop and Frisk”. The number of incidents has increased by the hundreds of thousands. For more than ten years, police have been overusing the practice of stopping countless innocent people, for no reason, with no suspicion, and just frisking them, with no regard to how it feels.
What many of these police officers don’t understand is that these encounters create harsh relationships between the police and the citizens making it more difficult to deter crime, which means crime will rise and the police will be viewed by targeted communities, especially minorities, as bullies.
The purpose of police is to serve and protect, to report, investigate, prevent, and stop crime, as well as to detain suspects through proper police procedure. Stop and frisk practices, however, are too much. Police are required to have reasonable suspicion of those they stop, not just to stop people because of their features.
Last year, almost 700,000 New York City citizens were stopped and frisked, with the vast majority being Black or Hispanic, and with most being totally innocent. The time has come to just say enough. This past year, an audio went viral about a young Hispanic teenager, known as Alvin Cruz, who was verbally abused by police, stopped and frisked without proper police procedure. The officer explicitly tells him that the purpose of the stop is for being a “mutt”, and tells him to “shut the f--- up”, and that he will ‘‘break his f----ing arm”. This is just one example of the broken down and outdated policy of “Stop and Frisk”.
After hearing about Alvin Cruz, I couldn’t help but remember my personal, but less dramatic experience with police. I remembered that evening when coming home from school with friends, tired but content. I, along with my Black and Hispanic friends, was on my phone, sitting peacefully, speaking at a normal, respectful voice level on the train. We were called to attention by two police officers on board and were approached. They, in a serious, cold and unfriendly manner demanded that we show our identification and open our school backpacks. “Is there a problem, officer?” asked my friend. The officer’s face looked annoyed at the question. “Open the bags,” he firmly insisted. Although there was no individual, direct disrespect to any of us personally, their actions were totally unreasonable and unnecessary since there was no provocative or incriminating behavior conducted by ANY of us. Of course, the officers found no weapons or contraband in our bags. They found nothing but textbooks, notebooks, and a 96-graded Sociology exam. I then opened my wallet to show ID, and when they saw a small metal replica NYPD silver badge clipped inside, they had to ask how I got that. I told them I have family members on the force. Therefore, we were left alone and they walked away. Lucky for us, they eased up and gave us a break. Had I not had the badge, they may have made my life that much harder.
Even so, those embarrassing minutes of my life were totally uncalled for. During the stop, the passengers stared. It was annoying, embarrassing, intimidating, and nerve wracking. It felt like psychological abuse. Even having done no wrong, seeing a badge, a gun and a cold, serious face would make ANYONE wonder if they are going to feel handcuffs tonight.
This summer, in collaboration with the Peapod Adobe Youth Voices Academy at Urban Arts, our students wrote, directed, created and shot a youth documentary on the impact of Stop and Frisk in their communities. This spring, students in the LatinoJustice New Media Leadership program will launch a campaign and show the documentary in high schools all over New York City.