Do I Look Suspicious?

It was a beautiful June day in 2012. Thousands of demonstrators participated in a silent march down Fifth Avenue to protest the New York Police Department’s Stop and Frisk policy. We marched under trees, past the Guggenheim and the Met lined with weekend tourists. We were Quaker activists, Muslim associations, civil rights organizers, labor union members, families from grannies to babies, student groups, queer youth, global coalitions, church leaders, and ethnic, cultural, and racial justice organizations, amongst others. We marched silently, reflecting the growing alliances between these groups, demonstrating the intersectional effects of this destructive policy. 

The Stop and Frisk policy creates an atmosphere of martial law – it perpetuates fear and paranoia, stereotypes and assumptions, profiling and unnecessary daily violence. Stop and Frisks do not reduce crime, and occur in alarming rates in communities of color, immigrant communities, Muslim and South Asian communities. NYPD’s Stop and Frisk practice targets people of color, poor people, homeless people, youth, and queer and transgender people. Feeling constantly under siege and harassed by the police, under surveillance and suspicion in their homes, on their streets, in their places of worship, study and employment, these already vulnerable communities face additional psychological, emotional, physical and even economic harm through this policy.

In 2011, police officers stopped New Yorkers 685,724 times (a 600% increase from Bloomberg’s first year in office). Eighty eight percent of those stopped were totally innocent; 51% of those stopped were aged 14-24 and only 9% of those stopped were white.  Not only does this demonstrate that this policy ineffective and harmful (through an excessive use of force and lack of NYPD accountability amongst) but other similar surveillance programs based on profiling are also emerging as failures. The NYPD recently admitted that its Muslim spy program failed to yield a single terrorism investigation or even a single lead.

Now it’s time for the NYPD to admit to the racial profiling implicit in its Stop and Frisk practices and change their constant hostile presence in our communities, harassing people they’re supposed to protect. The effects are demoralizing and humiliating. Policies and practices like these are creating a generation of youth of color embittered and scarred, tired of facing daily suspicion and mistreatment from the police. NYPD’s Stop and Frisk practices are not only illegal (by violating the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches), they’re also human rights abuses, violating various international legal protections against discrimination.

The numbers and the impact tell a disturbing story. Yet even more disturbing, a recent survey reported by the AP press in August 2012, found that 57% of white city voters approve of the NYPD’s practice of detaining and sometimes searching anyone officers deem suspicious. This racial divide is startling and illustrates the roots of these practices deep in communities separated by suspicion. 

In the face of such reports and the daunting reality they reflect, solidarity becomes more important than ever. White people, people from different age groups, Christians and Jews, straight people, rich people and others holding privilege in the eyes of the law need to also come out and support the fight against this heinous policy. By marching alongside us, they can help change the discussion from who looks suspicious to a deeper understanding of the racist, sexist, ageist, and homophobic underpinnings of this law and the effects it has on our communities.

We marched to demand our dignity. We marched to show the scars of stop and frisk in our communities, families and organizations. We marched to show the tragedy and threat of this insidious policy on our lives. We marched because we were all in this together. And we hope that others will join our march to end this harmful, discriminatory policy and hold the NYPD accountable to ALL the people it serves. 


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