Monday, July 15, 2013

Stop and Frisk: My Articles in The Wave

Over the past few weeks I wrote a few pieces for The Wave on S and F and race issues.

Published July 5, 2013

Confronting Myself on Race
By Norm Scott

A rally was held on July 8 at on the steps of Tweed Courthouse (Protest at Tweed Over Racist Comments Draws a Crowd), headquarters of NYC Department of Education, calling for an investigation of Minerva Zanka, the  principal of Pan American International High School in Queens, who allegedly referred to African American teachers she was firing as “big lipped,” “nappy haired,” and “gorillas.” Given the DOE’s double standard of protecting principals who do wrong while hounding teachers over relatively minor transgressions, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the principal get off with no more than a slap on the wrist.  I am not shocked that racist attitudes are still so visible.

The idea that with the election of Obama we are entering a post-racial society looks far from reality. We are ingrained with racial stereotypes from our earliest years. Black male teens and young men are often the target of these attitudes. I was in Philadelphia about 10 years ago for a conference and went to dinner with a friend who had just gotten her MBA at Wharton, one of the top schools in the nation. I walked her back to her apartment which was in an “iffy” neighborhood with lots of people hanging out on a hot June night. On the corner there was a group of black men who looked to be in their twenties and older drinking from beer cans and having a good time.  My antenna went up, though my friend seemed unconcerned. As we came to the corner, she ran up and hugged one of the guys, congratulating all of them on their graduation from Wharton with their MBAs. Big lesson learned about my own racial assumptions.

I was reminded of this event during debates on stop and frisk. What assumptions do police make, admittedly in a somewhat different situation, when they see a group of black makes, especially teens, hanging out? Having taught elementary school, I had little experience with high school students. But in the late 80s - early 90s I spent some time with a group of kids of color who played basketball on a high school team where one of my former students was a star player. I was involved in trying to find the right school for him but being a poor academic student he ended up at one of the tough neighborhood high schools which was in the process of being closed and reopened under a new name. During his freshman year there were only seniors left in the school. (The school has since been closed once again.)

For his 4 years in the school I went to most of their games and kept their stats.  I often gave them lifts. We went to basketball tournaments and Knick games. A few times I drove some of them out to my house to enjoy the beach or play computer basketball games on my computer. While at times rambunctious, like any teens, I found them to be a delightful group of kids though some did get into trouble. Living in some of the poorest neighborhoods they seemed to have experienced stop and frisk activities from police, which they accepted as an expected occurrence. I wondered how it would feel from the perspective of white kids and how their parents would react?

A few weeks ago my wife and I went into the city in the late afternoon when the subway cars were loaded with kids coming home from school. We got seats in the midst of a group of noisy and rambunctious young teens who were horsing around. Being on the trains at that time quite often, I was wary but not uncomfortable. My wife seemed a bit more concerned, at first. Until one kid, running by bumped into me. He stopped, turned around and apologized. While being aware, as one must be, ingrained assumptions can be very dangerous. Just ask George Zimmerman. [POSTNOTE: He may have gotten off but he will never rest in peace. In fact he may have been better off in the long run if convicted on the lesser charges.]

Norm blogs at
Here is a more newsy article on a march to stop stop and frisk held in Rockaway on June 22. Published in The Wave June 28, 2013:

Rockaway Rally to Stop “Stop and Frisk”
By Norm Scott

Having read City councilman Eric Ulrich’s recent column in The Wave in which he criticized attempts to curtail Stop and Frisk and proposed bills in the City Council calling for more oversight of the police department, seeming to view them as an attack on the work of the police, I decided to check out a “Stop Stop and Frisk" march staged by a group of activists from  the Rockaway Youth Task Force, Brothers for Peace and Social Change, Culinary Kids, and People's Justice. About 30 people marched along Beach Channel Drive from Beach 57th Street to Mott Avenue on June 22, a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I was only able to cover the early part of the march which was aimed at making the community aware of their efforts, handing out leaflets and engaging in information conversations on the route.

Josmar Trujillo, one of the march organizers and a Rockaway resident said, "We're not here to say we don't want any police. We want policing to be done the right way.”

Ulrich did recognize that the policy is controversial: "Critics abound. Some argue stop and frisk violates civil liberties and unfairly targets people of color and minority communities." Ulrich did not address the impact of the policy on law-abiding young men who are so often the target based on little evidence other than the color of their skin.

One 22 year old marcher, wearing a bright orange Rockaway Youth Task Force tee-shirt, touched on the unfair aspect. "I've been stopped many times. I've even been stopped walking into my building and asked where am I going. They search and pat you down. They ask if you've ever been arrested. They look you up and they let you go. It's a waste of their time. It's a waste of my time. It doesn't actually stop crime and we're tired of it."

Christina Gonzalez, 26, who grew up in Dayton was asked about the impact of the policy on women, given that they are almost never stopped, said they are no less affected. "They're the ones who have to defend their partners or be forced to stand by and watch helplessly," she said.

Ulrich maintained that "Stop and frisk has helped drive crime to historic lows, removed thousands of illegal guns from city streets and contributed to the overall renaissance of our great city." Critics point out that evidence points to a very small percentage are actually accused of a crime. Of the nearly 5 million stops that took place in last decade, less than 1% resulted in a handgun recovered. The 101st police precinct, which covers the eastern end of the Rockaways, has some of the highest rates of stop and frisk in Queens and in the City according to the NY Civil Liberties Union and is one of the only precincts in the City that has maintained a high level of stop while the rest of the City has seen a drop.

Trujillo said, "Residents and community groups are demanding that post-Sandy Rockaway be rebuilt with as much social and racial justice as planned storm-resistant infrastructure. Inequity and injustice have no place in a community that has pledged to be united moving forward. We gathered to show that we will not let the status quo of racial profiling in Far Rockaway continue."

Some claim that efforts to curb Stop and Frisk actually serves to police department from pressure from commanding officers to meet quotas to "juke" the stats," which are often the sole method used to judge effective policing. Critics blame Bloomberg’s cuts to the police, saying if there were more officers on the street for community policing there would be less need for Stop and Frisk.

A June 24 report at addressed this issue. “The most recent budget does not raise taxes or include increases in fines or fees ... and does not include more money to increase the size of the New York Police Department. One reason the police stepped up their proactive tactics, according to one of [police chief Ray] Kelly's predecessors, Bill Bratton, is the reduction in the size of the police department. With fewer officers and more responsibilities to fight street crime and terrorism, police can no longer spend as much time learning about the neighborhoods they're patrolling, developing a rapport with residents and acquiring information. According to Bratton, the "political decision” not to increase the size of the police force has led to the stop-and-frisk problem Bloomberg is now dealing with."

A public debate on the issue will be organized in Far Rockaway in July. Those interested in speaking or attending can get more information. Facebook: Resist Stop and Frisk - Far Rockaway

Here are some press releases from the organizing groups in Rockaway.

More than six months after hurricane Sandy the Far Rockaway community is seeing a resurgence of the familiar police tactics that were the norm before the disaster. The 101st police precinct, which covers the eastern end of the Rockaways, has some of the highest rates of stop and frisks in Queens and in the City, according to the most recent NYCLU data.

Residents, community groups and stop and frisk activists will come together on Saturday, June 22nd to march from the Edgemere housing buildings on Beach 57th and Beach Channel Drive to Mott Ave, near the A train station, where we will rally to say no more to racial profiling. We demand our community, and our youth in particular, stop being treated as criminals first and citizens last.

As the Rockaways look to rebuild and build back better equipped to deal with natural disasters, we will resist the social and political disaster bestowed down to communities of color by Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Kelly. The status quo of racial profiling as policy for the NYPD is not tenable, legal or just. The community needs economic and social investment, not a police state.

More than six months after hurricane Sandy the Far Rockaway community is seeing a resurgence of the familiar police tactics that were the norm before the disaster. The 101st police precinct, which covers the eastern end of the Rockaways, has some of the highest rates of stop and frisks in Queens and in the City, and is one of the only precincts in the City that is doing MORE stop and frisks, while the rest of the City has seen a drop. In the Rockaways the overwhelming majority of stops are occurring on the eastern end of the peninsula. It has been said that commanding officers seeking promotions come to Rockaway where they can accrue high arrest numbers for the Compustat-based police model that has dominated the NYPD in in the Bloomberg era. Revelations from the Federal trial on stop and frisk policy last month included police officers who testified as to quotas placed upon them from higher ranking officer point. The official position of the Mayor and commissioner Kelly has consistently been that stop and frisks take guns off the streets. However, of the nearly 5 Million stops that took place in last decade, less than 1% of those resulted in a handgun recovered. It has become such a scandal that the Department of Justice has even recently come out to support the creation of an independent monitor for the NYPD, which the NYPD does not want. The NYPD and the local precinct point to the high crime rate but recent 2013 data shows that there is no relationship between stop and frisk rates and crime. In the early part of the year crime went down even as stop and frisks went down across the City. Not to mention the fact that the legal basis for the tactic require reasonable suspicion of being armed. Since 99.5% of the time there is no gun, one can only come to the conclusion that these suspicions are unfounded. But the 101st precinct has clearly and unequivocally said they use stop and frisks to combat crime in general--a clear violation of the standard they are supposed to place upon the tactic. Are you interested in talking more about this issue? 

Would you like to argue for or against stop and frisk? We will be organizing a public debate in July in Far Rockaway. If you are interested in speaking or attending, please contact us. Facebook Group: Resist Stop and Frisk - Far Rockaway Email:

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