By Kalia Abiade
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have insisted that their police department’s stop-and-frisk policy does not rely on racial profiling, despite statistics that suggest otherwise. In the last 11 years, 5 million people have been stopped — and often harassed, handcuffed and patted down — without warrant, and more than 86 percent of those stopped were Black or Latino. Almost 90 percent of those stopped were released without charge.
The constitutionality of NYPD’s practice of stop-and-frisk is being challenged right now in federal court for a third week as part of a class-action lawsuit. An NYPD veteran and State Senator Eric Adams testified Monday that Kelly once admitted to him that the stops were meant to “instill fear” in Black and Latino men.
If the intent of the program was to instill fear in young men of color, it has worked.
David Floyd, the lead plaintiff in the case, told Colorlines.com that he was stopped twice – once on his block and another time on the property where he lived. He said, as a young black man, the experiences were humiliating and embarrassing, but most of all, they were frightening.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of person you are, how tough you are,” he said. “It’s a scary thing because you don’t know what is going to happen with your life. You don’t know what is going to happen with your freedom.”
One need only to look to the recent shooting death of Kimani Gray, a black teenager in Brooklyn killed by police, or many other instances of police shootings and allegations of brutality in New York and across the country, to recognize that Floyd’s fear is not unfounded.
Of course, this is not the first time NYPD has been accused of sowing fear as part of a department-approved practice. Just last month, a coalition of civil liberties organizations reported that the primary outcome of a sweeping NYPD surveillance program of Muslims in New York and beyond was more fear and mistrust of police among the targets of the spying. Muslim shop owners discourage political talk in their businesses and students worry that speaking up, even in a class, could earn them extra scrutiny.
Whether it’s stop-and-frisk, anti-immigrant dragnets or Muslim surveillance, profiling is not only discriminatory; it is ineffective. Moreover, such government-sanctioned practices invigorate those who make it their mission to conjure fear and hatred.
It should be seen as no coincidence that New York City is also the center of Pamela Geller’s ongoing campaign to vilify Muslims. Her most recent ads are arguably her most incendiary to date. When an official arm of government authorizes and defends discriminatory policing, activists such as Geller can claim vindication and are emboldened to continue — and escalate — the fear-mongering they thrive on.
In response to Mapping Muslims, Geller wrote last month:
“Where are the honest moderates standing up against this and working to expunge violence and supremacism from Islam, rather than blaming law enforcement for protecting the American people? The same question can be asked regarding our AFDI ads: honest moderate Muslims need to stand up against this and work for Islamic reform, rather than blame my ads for pointing out the truth.”
What she fails to acknowledge is that many of the world’s Muslims are “the American people,” too, and many American Muslims and people of color feel neither protected nor served by their law enforcement agencies. NYPD’s extensive spying program led to not one arrest and nine out of 10 people questioned as part of stop-and-frisk were completely innocent.
It is easy for most people to recognize Geller’s bigoted antics as flagrant and extreme. The recent Talk Back to Hate ads in New York are an encouraging example of individuals and groups willing to stand up to Geller and her ilk. However, it is also important that people recognize how government-sanctioned practices can institutionalize and weave bigotry and racism into our every day lives. Until we do, we make space for prejudice and discrimination to thrive.
For background information about the trial, visit: http://ccrjustice.org/floyd