I worry about a lot of things when I am heading into the city for a day trip or an evening out. Do I have the proper shoes? Where am I going to drink? Did I turn off my flat iron before I left the house? But as a white female from the suburbs, the one thing I never have to ask myself is, “Will I be subjected to stop-and-frisk?”
Stop-and-frisk is a ridiculous policy that has been used by police agencies since the Supreme Court ruled in its favor in the 1968 case of Terry v. Ohio. In a nutshell, it gives the NYPD license to feel you up based on “suspicion,” and suspicion alone. They don’t need to see you breaking the law, they don’t even need to have probable cause—pretty much all that is required is a gut instinct that you are up to no good. And if you live in NY, you are probably well aware of how flawed the NYPD’s gut instincts seem to be these days.
Over the last several years, there has been a disturbing rash of unarmed men of color being shot down by overzealous police officers. There was the young man, chased into his home, only to die in a hale of bullets on his bathroom floor, and the 68-year-old US Marine veteran gunned down in his living room. And who could forget the young groom-to-be, shot to death on the morning of his wedding? Sadly, I could go on and on but you get the picture. It seems that the NYPD’s motto has drastically shifted from “protect and serve” to “shoot first and then wait for the mayor and police commissioner to step in and protect you.”
However, don’t fret if you hang out in the city and are white like me. There is only a 10% chance that you will be subjected to the dehumanizing act called stop-and-frisk, and even less of a chance that you will be shot and killed. If you are someone who visits the “frou frou” areas that host a lot of fancy art galleries and overpriced restaurants, that percentage actually falls into the negative digits. In all of the years I have been going into NY, I have yet to see one person being frisked on bustling Houston street…although on one occasion I may have seen a couple of teenagers having sex in an alley. Either way, if you cruise the streets of SoHo, rest assured. By and large, you will be relatively safe.
If you look at the statistics from 2012, only 11% of the people stopped and frisked were actually “breaking the law.” But remember, breaking the law is such a broad term these days that the offender might have just been holding a little weed in their pocket. A broken law doesn’t have to constitute a bloody knife hidden in someone’s waistband; which leads us to the biggest outrage: 89% of the people who were stopped and violated by the police were completely innocent of any wrongdoing. Now, if you think my terminology; i.e., “violated,” is a bit extreme, than obviously you have never been frisked. And you may be saying, “Hey, wait a minute; neither have you.” Au contraire. I have. You see, I walk these streets a convicted felon who spent two years in a medium/maximum security prison. I have been frisked more times than I can count. Sometimes the state deemed it necessary (a visit, a fight on the dorm, a random room search) and sometimes it was just a creepy C.O. who wanted to feel my tits or even worse, brush his hand against my vagina. But no matter what the excuse, one thing holds true in every instance: it was one of the most dehumanizing and degrading things I have ever had to endure, second only to the strip search.
What I find most amusing is whenever I hear an American tout off about the many coveted “freedoms” that we have here in the U.S. Of course, we have some, but it seems that with every passing day we are losing more and more of the most important ones—like being able to walk down the street without the threat of police molestation. At this very moment, the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and, depending on where you live, the Second Amendments are all under attack. Free speech is no longer protected; they can search and seize you whenever the fuck they want; you are no longer entitled to due process and can even be detained and denied representation (forget about a speedy trial); and lets not even get into what they have done to the Eighth Amendment, the one that is meant to protect us from cruel and unusual punishment.
While we like to think we hold the corner on the freedom market, I ask you—what “free” person (outside of a jail or prison), who is doing absolutely nothing (visibly) wrong, should have to endure such a thing as stop-and-frisk? If you look at the statistics, the NYPD consistently answers, “people of color.” Since 2010, the stats are holding fairly steady: 87% of the people stopped are black or Latino. And remember, the vast majority of those are innocent. Is this supposed to improve relations between communities and their police? I would argue that the last thing the mayor and his “army” give a shit about is gaining the trust and respect of the communities they are meant to serve. So much for working for the people.
Most New Yorkers want to see an end to this practice. So much so that it’s a hot topic among the current candidates running for mayor, yet Mayor Bloomberg—or as I like to call him, Mayor Doucheberg—has dug in his heels and refuses to see stop-and-frisk for the immoral practice that it is. During a recent interview he went so far as to say, “If I had a son who was stopped, I might feel differently about it.” Well, Mayor Doucheberg, you don’t have to worry. The statistics are on your side.
I can’t help but compare what is happening in NYC to what I see happening everywhere. Government has gone mad with power. We are no longer a democracy but a place that is ruled by petulant children who sulk, lie and try to bully us into submission in order to get what they want. Whether it’s the audacity of selling a war that the overwhelming majority of people are strongly opposed to, or the idea that you need a mayor to ration your soda, politicians have grossly overstepped their bounds.
Sometimes I look around in pure disbelief at what I am seeing. I am not a college-educated person, and I did not do particularly well in school; but I am plugged in, and most of my friends are as well. Here is what I can tell the self-appointed dictators of America: our numbers are growing, and while I may not be entirely sure of what the future holds for this country, I can say this—your time is short. We are getting smarter, we are more informed, we don’t want your wars or your immoral laws and we certainly don’t believe that what you care about most is our safety.
On this day that Obama addresses the nation, I have a pretty good feeling how it’s going to go; yet I hold out a modicum of hope that the pressure we have put on him will change the tide. It’s also primary day for the mayor of NYC, and part of me wonders if Douchberg will appoint himself the king of NY and scrap the entire process. Nothing surprises me anymore. Not even the absurd.
After last night’s speech, the author would like to add, “Obama, go fuck yourself.”
Author: Cynthia Cone is a heavily tattooed Ex-Con with no college education and very bad punctuation. She currently lives on Long Island, NY where she pays extremely high taxes, likes to drink, rage against the machine and shop at the GAP.
Cynthia is also a satellite producer for the radio show Dangerous Conversation which can be heard on radioio.com.
Contact Cynthia at firstname.lastname@example.org