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The Fire This Time

By Dennis O. Ojogho

Of the 533,042 individuals stopped and frisked by the New York City Police Department last year, 87 percent were either black or Latino and 89 percent were completely innocent. If this is not considered racial profiling, then I don’t know what is.

Ever since the Supreme Court’s decision in Terry v. Ohio, NYPD officers have had the authority to stop people on the streets when there is reasonable cause to suspect that that individual is about to commit a crime. Officers have the power to frisk an individual when they suspect that he or she possesses a weapon.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYPD continue to defend the stop and frisk policy as a way to keep the city safer, but because the overwhelming majority of those stopped are both minorities and innocents, there is a real cause for concern. To NYPD officers, every stop represents an insignificant and forgettable part of the day. If they find no criminal activity, as occurs the vast majority of the time, they move on and stop the next individual they deem suspicious. But the dehumanization that comes with being treated like a criminal can haunt the person for life.

With as many at 1,800 individuals stopped per day, one must wonder what each of these individuals did to be considered suspicious. Was it the type of clothes they were wearing? Did their skin color simply not match the neighborhood they happened to be in at the time? Or maybe, they just gave off some type of vague, subjective criminal vibe. The problem with the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy is that it is completely based on presumption. All one has to do is look like someone who might commit a crime in the eyes of an officer, and one can be legally stopped and frisked under the current status quo.

With such a broad definition of suspicious and with so much discretion in the hands of NYPD officers, the potential for abuse is boundless. For a long time, it’s been difficult for the public to sympathize with victims of stop and frisk since no personal stories of maltreatment had come to light. But in 2011, a young teen named Alvin, who had already been stopped earlier that day, decided to record the incident. Like the Rodney King video that broadcast to the world what police brutality meant in Los Angeles, this 17-year-old’s audio recording, which marked the first public recording of a New York stop and frisk in action, revealed troubling truths.

When listening to the audio, the first thing you might realize is that the ordeal is not as harmless as the name “stop and frisk” may mislead you to believe. The police officer shoves Alvin and proceeds to call him “a piece of shit” and “a fucking mutt.” He also threatens to arrest and “break [Alvin’s] fucking arm off.” This is what the city of New York calls a stop and frisk. If you ask me, this sounds more like a “stop, harass, intimidate, belittle, and abuse.”

It is time for Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Police Chief Raymond W. Kelly to put an end to this cruel practice. New York’s stop and frisk policy is just one of many ways America continues to perpetuate institutional racism. We often like to think that our country is post-racial, but if you asked any minority who has been stopped in New York or any other major urban city, they’d tell you otherwise.

As cities continue to underserve public schools, black and Latino dropout rates will continue to remain high. Without a high school diploma, these young people must survive in a country that dedicates more resources to putting them behind bars than seeing that they can find a good job or pursue higher education.

The culture of mass incarceration endemic in cities such as New York can be compared to what Arizona tried to do with Senate Bill 1070. Signed into law in 2010, it gives law enforcement similar powers to detain an individual if  “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.” It made me proud to see President Obama strongly criticize this bill and the rest of the nation stand with him against it. They understand that what Arizona is doing violates both the 4th amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure and the 14th amendment’s equal protection of all people under the law.

We cannot stand idly by as 1,800 New Yorkers continue to racially profiled every day. I call on the president and defenders of civil liberties everywhere to stand up again, this time against the NYPD and its stop and frisk policy.

Dennis O. Ojogho ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Lionel Hall.

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