Resistance to NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Comes to D.C. as Lawmakers, Groups Urge Justice Dept. Probe
Dozens of New York lawmakers and several advocacy groups are convening on Capitol Hill today to call on the Justice Department to investigate the New York City Police Department’s controversial "stop-and-frisk" policies. Last year the NYPD stopped, frisked and interrogated people nearly 700,000 times — mostly black and Latino men. In all, there were more stops of young African-American men than the total population of that group in the city. "This is not about criminals. This is about a generation that’s been criminalized, targeted and brutalized by the police," says organizer Jamel Mims, a victim of stop-and-frisk. We’re also joined by NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, who is helping to organize a silent march against racial profiling in New York City on Father’s Day, June 17. "This is really the biggest, most aggressive racial profiling problem that we have in this country, and it just has to be stopped," Jealous says. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Dozens of New York lawmakers and several advocacy groups are convening on Capitol Hill today to call on the Justice Department to investigate the New York City Police Department’s controversial "stop-and-frisk" policies.
Last year, the New York police officers stopped and interrogated people nearly 686,000 times. Nine out of 10 ultimately were not arrested or ticketed. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, about 87 percent of those stopped were black or Latino. In all, there were more stops of young African-American men than the total of population of that group in the city. Since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office, the number of stop-and-frisks has increased by 600 percent, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. While the city has defended the practice, opposition to stop-and-frisk is increasing.
AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, a coalition of New York City politicians, civil rights leaders, gay rights activists and union representatives gathered at the historic Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village to call on the police to halt its practice of stopping and interrogating people on the basis of their identity. This is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn followed by Kenneth Upton of Lambda Legal.
SPEAKER CHRISTINE QUINN: It’s sending a message that our quest, all of us as New Yorkers, is to make this a city that is free and safe and embracing for everyone.
KENNETH UPTON: Stop-and-frisk, and the racial profiling behind it, is destroying the social fabric of this city. It leaves us unsafe, and it must stop.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about stop-and-frisk, we’re joined by two guests. Ben Jealous is the president and CEO of NAACP. The NAACP is helping to organize a silent march against racial profiling in New York City on Father’s Day, June 17th. And we’re joined here in New York by Jamel Mims, an organizer with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, which is working to end the practice of stop-and-frisk. He has been a victim of stop-and-frisk and has been arrested for nonviolently protesting the policy. We invited the New York Police Department to join us on the show but received no response.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Ben Jealous, you’re in Washington. Talk about what is happening in Washington today, many people coming down from New York, going to the Justice Department.
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: That’s right. Folks will be here to meet with the CBC, the Congressional Black Caucus, and to meet with the U.S.—and to meet with Holder and his staff. And the reason folks are here is, quite frankly, there needs to be a pattern and practice investigation into the—into the cops.
What’s going on in the city is really wholesale racial profiling. We’re seeing 700,000 people stopped. Ninety percent of them have done absolutely nothing wrong. Of that 10 percent who may have done something wrong, most of them get a ticket. You know, about one out of 1,000 actually has a gun on them. Ninety percent of the people are people of color. And the stops are so frequent, as Juan said, you actually have more stops of young black men than there are young black men in the entire city. And so, you know, this is really the biggest, most aggressive racial profiling problem that we have in this country, and it just has to be stopped.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ben Jealous, in terms of what you’re hoping to get out of the members of Congress, are there hearings scheduled, or is—and are you seeing this as New York representing something, a trend, anywhere else in the country?
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: You know, what is perhaps most disturbing is that the city has said that they need to do this. The mayor has said that his cops need to do this to make the city safer. And he’s very proud of the fact they have brought down violent crime by 29 percent in the past 10 years. What they aren’t telling you is that a city like Los Angeles has brought down crime in that same time period, brought down violent crime in that same time period by 59 percent without this program, that Dallas has done so by 49 percent, Baltimore by 37 percent.
So, yes, you know, racial profiling is a big problem in this country, has various manifestations. It does happen sort of from coast to coast. But not like this. You don’t see big cities like this doing a sort of old-school, wholesale, you know, jack-'em-up-on-the-street racial profiling of young black folks in the same way in the biggest cities. Other big cities, like Los Angeles, simply moved beyond the practice since Rodney King. But, you know, what's most disturbing is that, you know, back in 1999, when so many of us went to jail in the wake of the shooting of Mr. Diallo, there were just—there were less than 100,000 stop-and-frisks per year in the city. Now—last year, there was almost 700,000. This year we’re on the pace to 800,000. It seems like New York has gone in absolutely the wrong direction and, relative to the other biggest cities in the country, has done the reverse of what they have done.
And as a result, New York has actually done less to stem violent crime than its peers, like Los Angeles, which has pushed down violent crime twice as far in the same period of time, because they have decided to use a tactic that builds walls. And so, you know, what happens is you have people, you know, who are in the most victimized communities in the city who now fear talking to the cops, because the cops are one of the gangs that hurt them, one of the gangs that humiliate their children, one of the gangs that leave them in fear. That’s not the way it should be.
AMY GOODMAN: Jamel Mims, talk about the organizing here in New York City and also what happened to you personally.
JAMEL MIMS: OK. Well, here in New York City, and in fact most recently, we had been in the midst of trials for being put on trial for, you know, crimes that we committed, as far as standing in front of the 28th Precinct and, you know, officially being charged with blocking pedestrian traffic and blocking the entrance to the precinct.
But, you know, the reason that this is important and that this should be really brought out is part of the entire fight against stop-and-frisk. I mean, this—we see the climate around stop-and-frisk right now as politicians are lining up on the left and the right to either defend or rebuke the policy, or ultimately make small reforms that keep this policy intact. On October 21st, when I joined Cornel West and Carl Dix to step out and answering their call to meet the stop-and-frisk policy with resistance and manifesting nonviolent civil disobedience, the purpose of that was to really raise the level of resistance. And we had seen that there was a lot of exposure done around the—around stop-and-frisk, but the missing element of mass resistance is what was really missing. So we kicked that campaign off on October 21st. And just as recently as last month, we were put through, you know, five days of trial in an extremely—you know, an extremely secure setting, where there were two security checkpoints. You know, this was the biggest political trial in decades, since the Chicago Seven in '79. And it's part of the ensemble of raising the level of resistance to this policy.
Again, we’re not talking about making reforms that leave this policy intact. In a similar—you know, the situation of the Freedom Riders is quite analogous to this. You know, when the Freedom Riders were going down South or people were conducting sit-ins, they weren’t looking for more seats at the table or more seats at the back of the bus or hours where they’d be able to visit; they were looking to end an entire system of oppression and brutality, by looking at one specific facet and generating resistance around it. We have to look at stop-and-frisk through the same prism, and that’s really what we’ve been doing most recently, and especially going into these trials that will have—you know, that we had in April and that we’ll continue to have throughout the summer, in July and August.
AMY GOODMAN: We invited the New York Police Department to join us on the program but didn’t get a response. Last month, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly defended stop-and-frisk when questioned by a reporter.
REPORTER: Although it is a tactic the police use, some people are just very hurt by it and upset when they’re stopped unnecessarily. What message do you have to the—
COMMISSIONER RAYMOND KELLY: Well, I understand that. Some people—you know, you’re taking away—at the very least, you’re taking away people’s time. So I understand people may not be happy with it. But I can also assure you that I go to communities, communities of color. People want more. So, it—
REPORTER: They want more stop-and-frisk?
COMMISSIONER RAYMOND KELLY: Absolutely. It is not a universal opinion in a lot of communities. So, you know—and we’ve had meetings with community groups, and I have a lot of meetings with community groups. So it’s not a—it’s not a universal reaction.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the police commissioner, Ray Kelly. Jamel Mims, your response?
JAMEL MIMS: OK. You know, flat out, we are not dealing with a situation where this policy keeps the police from doing their job. In fact, we’re looking at a policy that fits right into how the police broadly criminalize youth. We’re looking—we’re in an emergency situation where the youth are broadly criminalized, marked—deemed guilty before proven innocent, if they survive long enough to prove they’re innocent. With 2.4 million people behind bars and held and warehoused in torture-like conditions, and when people even get out of those conditions, they’re discriminated against and relegated to second-class status for the rest of their lives.
Now, we have to look at stop-and-frisk as a pipeline to that program, and the front-line policing and measures like stop-and-frisk and racial profiling as the method by which that entire process begins. So, this really isn’t a process that keeps—that keeps streets safer. It doesn’t have—you know, it has no correlation to the rise or to the drop in crime rates, as statistics have shown. But we really need to broaden and change the terms of the conversation. This isn’t about—again, this is not about criminals. This is about a generation that’s been criminalized, targeted and brutalized by the police.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ben Jealous, I’d like to ask you about another aspect of the stop-and-frisk. Earlier this week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new legislation to decriminalize public possession of small amounts of marijuana, lowering the penalty from a misdemeanor to a non-criminal offense. Misdemeanor marijuana arrests have skyrocketed in New York City in recent years largely because of stop-and-frisk. Here’s the governor speaking.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: Young person has a small amount of marijuana in their pocket, and that’s a violation. That’s a fine. Police officer says, "Turn out your pockets," and now it’s a crime. I mean, who could—who could defend against that?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Your response to the governor’s proposal?
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Look, he is doing the right thing. What’s been happening in the city is that, because you have this intense focus on young black and brown people, they have been busted at a much higher rate for something which is, frankly, a very common part of life in this country. You know, 75 percent of grown-ups in our country have smoked pot at least once. And so, when you do 90 percent of your stop-and-frisks on people of color in your city, what happens is that they get busted for what they have in their pockets much more frequently than white folks get busted for what they have in their pockets.
And as a result, the penalty for a young person going through what for many has become a rite of passage becomes much higher, and can even lead to people being kicked out of public housing, not being able to get student loans or student grants that are guaranteed by the government because they have a drug offense, not being able to get hired for a job. You know, you talk to some of these young folks, and they’ve been stopped 15 times. And, you know—and you have to wonder—somebody is going to hire them for their first job, and they pull up their rap sheet, which unfortunately is very common now—people are actually doing criminal background checks for the most menial of jobs—and they see that this person has never been convicted of anything, but they had 15 run-ins with the cops—I mean, what would you think of that young person? And the reality is that what you should think, if they’re coming from New York City, is that they’ve been repeatedly victimized by cops who seem to be, you know, encouraged to do just that to young people of color. It really has to stop. We’ve got to get back.
You know, this is a city, by the way, which the last time that folks checked, because the city doesn’t always report its homicide stats to the federal government as it should—the last time that folks checked was 2009. New York City was running about 10 percentage points below the national average for solving homicides. So, in the country you have about a one-in-three chance of getting away with murder, but in New York City you had almost a one-in-two chance. So, there are big jobs that the cops could be doing, if they weren’t throwing our young people up against the wall over and over and over again. They’re doing a half-million more stop-and-frisks than they were doing just, you know, five, six years ago. And, you know, they could take that half-million or that million hours and invest it into solving murders, invest it into solving rapes, invest it into doing their job, rather than building a wall between them and the people who, quite frankly, given the stats in our communities, most urgently need them to do a good job.
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, the New York Civil Liberties Union unveiled a free smartphone app that allows New Yorkers to report stop-and-frisk encounters in real time called "Stop and Frisk Watch." The app enables users to easily record videos of police officers performing these stops and send the clips to the NYCLU. Jamel Mims, I wanted to ask you how activists are organizing against stop-and-frisk, but first let’s go to the clip of the video that explains how the NYCLU app is used.
NYCLU VIDEO: The New York Civil Liberties Union’s Stop and Frisk Watch is an easy way to record and report NYPD interactions with the public. Note: all footage and reports will be sent immediately to the NYCLU. The app has three main functions: record, listen and report. Record allows you to videotape an incident, audio concluded. Stop recording by shaking your phone or manually pressing click to stop. As soon as filming ends, you will immediately get a brief survey. Please fill it out and share any pertinent information regarding the police interaction you saw.
AMY GOODMAN: Jamel Mims, will you be using this?
JAMEL MIMS: Well, I mean, I don’t have an Android phone. So, at the moment, I won’t be. But people have been engaging in activism and engaging in this type of thing for a while. You know, there have been different Copwatch services, where people will record the interactions with the police with the people via their phones or cameras. And there’s—but I would really like to stress or emphasize that this is a method where we can gather, you know, an extreme number of—you know, an extremely large amount of data and really start to characterize what’s happening and put a face on exactly what’s happening.
But as far as a method and a tool of resistance and actually being able to overcome the situation that we find ourselves in via this toolset, you know, I would really want to stress this relationship and the analogy to, you know, the old Jim Crow and this being the new Jim Crow, and how—in the prism by which we actually have to see resisting this. And it has to be met with—you know, it has to be met with mass resistance and actually changing the terms of the conversation of the criminalization of the youth and mass incarceration in society. So, while this is—you know, this is a much-needed thing, and there are things that are doing this, you know, the kind of critical leap happens with resistance. There are organizations like the People’s Neighborhood Patrols in Harlem, which—you know, you take a case like Oscar Grant. He was killed in front of hundreds of eyewitnesses who were using their cameras. The kind of critical step in what the People’s Patrols do is actually, you know, intervening and stopping those assaults by [inaudible] the police.
AMY GOODMAN: You talked about stop-and-frisk as being the beginning of the pipeline—
JAMEL MIMS: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —into prison. And in your own experience, when you were stopped, you almost lost a Fulbright scholarship as a result of this. Explain what happened to you.
JAMEL MIMS: Yes, this was—this was a few months after I graduated university at Boston College. And we had gone back to a party up in Boston, and we, you know, were down in like Tremont Street in the downtown district, coming out of this party at about 3:00 a.m. after the—after the cops had broken it up. As they were escorting us down the street—and this is, you know, a mob of colorfully clad folk, exactly the type of folks that are in New York that are targeted by this policy every day—they started to corral us, you know, grab us. And, you know, we see one of our friends being escorted with his hands behind his back and kind of paraded down the street. Another friend starts to take pictures of it, and as he—you know, the cops immediately seize upon his camera, not wanting, you know, any of that to get out. They toss his camera to me, and I grab it, and they then slam me to the ground. There were five of us who were kind of pulled out of the crowd.
And as a result, I had to go and, you know, defend myself in front of the State Department. And my Fulbright—you know, my Fulbright grant, which I got for—which I received for—a grant to study hip-hop in China, was threatened. You know, it was the Fulbright that almost never happened. But this is an experience that—you know, you multiply that experience by 1,900 times every day, and that will really give us a true picture of the severe weight of the human rights crisis that we’re in the midst of.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when you talk about the need for more mass resistance, specifically, other than the patrols, what do you mean?
JAMEL MIMS: Well, you know, you look at a case like Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education, where you had the same nine Supreme Court justices sitting on both of them. The thing that changed, the one that changed from segregation is illegal to segregation is legal, is public pressure. And so, I mean manifesting mass resistance and people coming out and casting off this—you know, the stigma and shame of having been criminalized and having gone to jail and those stories coming out. I mean mass resistance with things like the patrols. I mean mass resistance with things like Copwatch, and also in the legal front, you know, as far as this class action lawsuit challenge to stop-and-frisk. But also, more generally, just a—you know, talking about engendering an atmosphere of resistance where people see this as an intolerable offense, where they see it go by and they see it happen every day, and people are, you know, compelled to act, to put their humanity on the line, and to actually act to stop it.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to end by asking Ben Jealous two questions. One is about the history of silent marches, the one that will be held on Father’s Day, NAACP going back to, what, 1917 with W.E.B. Du Bois leading a silent march in New York against lynchings and segregation and other issues. And then also if you could comment on the Florida governor, Rick Scott, vowing to continue the purge of thousands of registered voters, despite the Justice Department intervening.
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Yeah, this country, sadly, in many ways, is starting out the 21st century in a place that is too similar in too many ways to how we started out the 20th. At the start of the 20th, we were dealing with a building confrontation against the old Jim Crow, racial segregation. Now, at the start of the 21st, we’re starting with a building confrontation of the new Jim Crow, which is this mass incarceration, and it is at a very high rate in this country. A black man in this country right now is five times more likely to be incarcerated than a black man in South Africa at the height of that country’s segregation in, you know, again, the 1980s, for instance.
And so, we’re calling for this silent march much like we did in 1917. Then, it was the St. Louis Massacre, and it was a national march to express outrage about the hunting of blacks in the streets and calling for an end to lynch mob justice in this country. This time, it’s about a massive problem of racial profiling, not in some far-off city but right in Manhattan, right in the five boroughs, calling for an end to racial profiling across this country. Trayvon Martin’s lawyer, Ben Crump, will be there. Trayvon Martin’s father will be with us the day before—for obvious reasons, he wants to be back in Florida with family on Father’s Day—but the day before for a town hall meeting. We’re asking people to meet at Fifth and 110th Street at 1:00. We will step off at 2:00.
We march in silence to send a very powerful message. We want people, when they see the march, whether it’s in person or on TV, to think about what’s going on. You know, if you chant, if you yell, if you scream, people think about what you’re chanting or yelling or screaming. But when you’re silent, they’re forced to actually focus on, you know, this massive social problem and really interrogate it for themselves. And we’re asking people to think, because the mayor again has tried to convince people that this makes them safer, and it really doesn’t, in very profound ways. You know, we’ve seen young men like Ramarley Graham killed as a result of these stop-and-frisks. It’s just a terrifying problem.
With regards to Governor Scott, the reality is—
AMY GOODMAN: And we have 10 seconds.
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Yeah. You know, the reality is that we have Southern governors once again trying to steal our votes, trying to make it impossible for the people to actually choose who their president will be. The last time in Florida, they found that it gets real messy if you break the law. This time they’re trying to use the law, but now that they’re finding out that there is a higher law, which is federal law in the U.S. Constitution, they’re even willing to defy that. And when you get Southern governors seeking to defy the U.S. Justice Department to control the outcome of our country’s politics, it is a very sad day.
AMY GOODMAN: Ben Jealous, I want to thank you for being with us, president and CEO of the NAACP, and Jamel Mims, with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, which is working to end the practice of stop-and-frisk.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, the New York Police Department is being sued by Muslims for being racially profiled. Stay with us.