There was this time, not too long ago, when I was getting on the subway. I was heading into the station, walking down the stairs, when I saw a dude wearing the same exact backpack as me. I said–and I never really talk to randos–”Yo, we have the same backpack!” He shot me a polite smile–seeing someone with the same backpack isn’t really a big deal–and continued into the station. Inside the station was one of those police tables where they randomly pick people to search bags (they pop up at some stations, they’re easily avoidable, you’re totally welcome to walk to a different entrance, it’s dumb.) They looked at me and my backpack brethren, and chose to search his bag but not mine.
I am white and he is black.
I could have played the indignant ‘hero’ and insisted they search my bag, but I didn’t. I kept walking.
New York City has a profiling problem. This is coming from a place of racially privileged ignorance, but I still realize it.
The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program is a major culprit of racial profiling by law enforcement in New York. Stop-and-frisk means that officers can basically stop you and frisk you without any probable cause just because, with the because usually being ‘because’ of the color of your skin: an inordinate amount of black and Latino people are stopped every day by the NYPD.
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly claims stop-and-frisk saves lives, 7,383 lives to be exact, but that figure only represents how crime has gone down since the introduction of the program, and does not prove the program caused it. Kelly also justified the program’s profiling by claiming that “96% of the individuals who were shot and 90% of those murdered were black and Hispanic.” His argument is that because you are saving the lives of minorities, it’s oaky to profile them on the streets, apparently. That is not a solid argument.
Our own Negin Sairafi discussed how harmful NYPD profiling is, and introduced HelloGigglers to people who have been stopped and abused by NYPD officers multiple times.
Stop-and-frisk’s injustice has not gone unnoticed; federal “Judge Shira Sheindlin… recently ruled stop-and-frisk unconstitutional.” Justice Sheindlin said that the program could continue under the auspices of the federal government–oversight is everything–and with certain fixes; like certain officers wearing body cameras to document arrests, which seems like a great idea. There will be less brutality if there is further accountability.
Commissioner Kelly derided the idea of the body cameras, claiming they would hinder police work, but I ask: if officers are not doing anything wrong, what’s wrong with documenting what they’re doing? Sure, that may seem like a silly argument, but isn’t that your justification? “If you’re not carrying anything illegal, why can’t we search you?” If police wore cameras we’d know more about the case of the 14 year old boy shot by NYPD. Officers claimed he was shooting at them, and if so their actions were justified despite his age, but some claim the officers were lying about the 14 year old shooting at them. Body cameras on police officers would solve this, and if there was foul play the appropriate parties could be punished.
Police accountability is important, and will be a big step towards ending racial profiling in the NYPD.
Featured Image Via Wikimedia