Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Walking While Brown in New York City

In 2009, "490,000 blacks and Latinos were stopped by the police on the streets, compared with 53,000 whites." 6% of those stops resulted in arrests. In Brownsville, "Men between 15 and 34 in the area were stopped an average of five times"—that means that "the police made over 52,000 stops between 2006 and 2010 in one eight-block neighborhood with a total population of only 14,000."

All those stops have previously gone into "The '250 Database,' so called after the UF-250 form that officers use to file stop-and-frisk reports," which is effectively "a record of the names and addresses of most working-class youth in the largest American city." Last year, outgoing Governor Paterson signed a law that made keeping those records illegal. But that hasn't stopped the practice of illegal searches that begin as stop-and-frisks, which result in hundreds of arrests of people carrying marijuana.

What does this all mean in the day-to-day? Well, with widespread stop-and-frisk, things happen like what happened to the Almonor family.

What a mess. According to the Times report on the trial, 13-year-old Devin Almonor was walking his friend to the bus stop at 8:30 on a Saturday night, when he got stopped and frisked—and taken to the precinct. "He was part of a rowdy group and had reached toward his waistband as the police approached," is what the police say. (I did not know that being "rowdy" on the street was a crime for 13-year-olds walking with their friends. Apparently I should retroactively spend my entire high school career in jail.)

His parents went up on felony assault charges; his mother went to the precinct house and allegedly used curse words in front of cops and was "hostile," because there's nothing cops hate more than foul language. Her husband, a retired cop, was accused of punching a cop in the face. (It sounds rather like the kind of "punch" that happens when you are being wrestled to the ground by a roomful of cops—it's easy to get charged with assault when part of your body makes contact with a cop while you're trying not to lose your teeth.)

In fact, he was acquitted, and she was convicted of just a trespassing violation. In the end, the City will spend a fortune settling their lawsuit.

More often, things like this happen:

Antonio Rivera, 25, said he gets stopped by police up to five times a month. In January, he said he was stopped and frisked near the corner of E. 183rd Street and Creston Avenue in the Bronx. He was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession….

Rivera said his marijuana was in his pants and that police pulled it out of his clothes after searching him without his consent.

Rivera had lodged a soft Ziploc bag of marijuana between his legs inside his pants while still in the room where he bought it. He said he never took the drugs out when he went outside, but the police officer who arrested him told prosecutors Rivera was openly displaying his drugs.

These are the cases that clog up New York City's courts, where it's the word of the arresting officer versus the word of the suspect. The good news is, that's a situation that sits increasingly less well with juries of New Yorkers.

24 Comments / Post A Comment

KarenUhOh (#19)

This is a common problem, this prevalance of criminal activity in Certain Segments of Society. We've spent a lot of time over the years reading the police blotter in our suburban paper. Mostly it's traffic stops; strangely, only people with Hispanic surnames drive through our town. For some reason, none of them are able to drive without obstructed mirrors. In the course of citing for that offense, the police discover that an astounding percentage of them carry drug paraphrenalia. It's probably issued to them as they're crawling through the fence at the border, or when they get out of the furniture truck in San Antonio.

What are the odds?

NinetyNine (#98)

Unfortunately, the conclusion at the end is false. I was chatting with a friend who is a Public Defender in Manhattan about my near-felony experience 'walking in the vicinity of police' (I had the temerity to yell a cab) and he said that he very rarely takes cases to trial in Manhattan because as the influx of non-New Yorkers increases, juries get more and more credulous about police behavior. Brooklyn juries generally are better, but I expect as the hipster swath increases, the same may happen out there.

brianvan (#149)

@NinetyNine It's worse than that. If the prosecutors reduce the charges enough, it's a mandatory bench trial in the State of New York. Prosecutors often do this when they know they can't win over a jury, just like they'll run out the 90-day clock on summoning a grand jury for a felony charge and then drop the charges to misdemeanor at the last possible moment (starting a new 180-day time limit to bring the case directly to trial). When they know they can't win over a grand jury, they fall back to misdemeanor. When they know they can't win over a REGULAR jury, they drop it down to class B misdemeanor and now your criminal record is in the hands of one potentially crotchety judge. (and good luck overturning a bench verdict in appeals)

This is all, of course, mild inconvenience compared to what it's like to be held by ICE for immigration offenses. They'll move you 1,500 miles on a moment's notice and won't tell your lawyer where you ended up.

Matt (#26)

Had to get there before BrianVan

CatsInBags (#3,656)

@brianvan Generally, prosecutors have 98% of the power. So no disagreement there. But. I would say that sometimes, I would much rather go to bench then take a chance with a jury. Someone else here has mentioned jury nullification as a means to preventing injustice. More often, I see jury nullification going the other way…Juries convicting even though there is no way a rational person would believe the facts add up to "beyond a reasonable doubt." That is typical jury nullification. I throw the proposition out to any public defenders/prosecutors here that sometimes…a judge is often more likely to reduce a sentence or check a prosecutor's power vs. a jury. Thoughts?

brianvan (#149)

@CatsInBags Well, it depends. How crooked is the judge? How much of a dope is the prosecutor? How competent is your lawyer?

I think if you know who's going to be presiding over a trial, and you know you'll get a judge who is one of the 80-90% of judges who don't take bullshit, and if you're actually innocent, I say go for it. Even an incompetent defense attorney can't do THAT much to fuck you up. Facts usually speak for themselves, and judges are (mostly) not idiots.

But remember, we live in a society where the people in power have a lot of biases, so if you look like an "urban youth", you could have all the facts breaking your way and you can STILL get railroaded. That's what's kind of sad about the whole thing; rich people hire the right high-power defense attorneys and NEVER risk an unfavorable resolution. Poor people get a overworked newbie from Legal Aid, who talks the defendant into a plea because they already know the defendant is guilty and Legal Aid attorneys NEVER want to face a trial representing a clearly guilty person, and suddenly the defendant has waived all of his/her rights because poor people don't know any better. A judge wouldn't stand for any of that (and they certainly ask at least three times at the plea hearing), but they never get a chance to find out anyway. Ugh.

mrschem (#1,757)

I sure hope Eddie K#$% signed a release.

deepomega (#1,720)

Because I'm worried I'm not at a high enough risk of a brain aneurysm, sometimes I read the forums on an LEO website. And hoo boy. Did you know that nobody EVER takes the word of a cop anymore? It's true! That's what the cops say! Now I guess the police are never trusted, ever, in any court of law.

roboloki (#1,724)

@Chest Rockwell so we should quietly relinquish our civil liberties because a goddamned barney fife wannabe has a fucking attitude because because he has a little penis. thanks but no thanks comrade.

roboloki (#1,724)

@Chest Rockwell yes! i'm trying to edit and also having no luck. sorry for coming across as an ass…that wasn't my intent.

zoom (#10,138)

@Chest Rockwell – I can't speak for Mr. Sicha, but I assume that "wilding out" for 13-17 year old urbvan males is similar to "bridge drinking" and "small explosives experimentation" for 13-17 year old rural males. I guess my point is that kids screw stuff up on a regular basis, and historically speaking, that has always been so.

Chest Rockwell (#11,302)

@roboloki no problem man. I had stated in my OP that i've recently been pinched by the NYPD, so I don't have a lot of sympathy for them, but this situation went from bad (the cops stopping him) to worse (him totally freaking out, really man? Just hand the guy our fucking ID) to TOTALLY FUCKING BAD (him throwing that shoulder while in cuffs). chances are not much will happen but really, live in NYC? gotta know how to deal with the cops. I just equate it to the smell of garbage on the side walks in the summer and dealing with tourists in Midtown, just deal with it. Does it suck? yes, but such is life.

this actually reminds me of a sketch from The Boondocks…..

zoom (#10,138)

Get interrupted, reply to a deleted comment, look stupid. Showing your age there, mr. zoom.

Chest Rockwell (#11,302)

@zoom its ok, this thing is pissing me off today. Wilding out for urban teens also has evolved into acts of assault on random victims in the city. i shit you not……

zoom (#10,138)

@Chest Rockwell dammit kids, just hide out and do illicit substances.

Chest Rockwell (#11,302)

@zoom i'm saying. it would be one thing if the cops were out busting kids in their parents house, tripping on acid and staring a black light posters, but that isn't exactly the case.

CatsInBags (#3,656)

The first thing I learned in law school was that the 4th Amendment does not exist.

jfruh (#713)

I oppose the oppressive police state and am against random stop-and-searches and for sane laws about marijuana possession, but … if I were stopped five times a month by the cops, maybe I wouldn't walk around with marijuana on my person? Not even tucked in my underpants?

Tulletilsynet (#333)

And maybe cops, even NYC cops, wouldn't harrass people as they do in the clip if they knew that when they pulled shit like that, they would likely be filmed AND IF FILMED THEN SURELY PROSECUTED AND JAILED? Why can't that be a thing?

metoometoo (#230)

I had jury duty in January, and sat through the jury selection process for a case involving a probably homeless man who had been arrested for meth possession on the block of Market Street in San Francisco where homeless people do drugs. They eliminated a lot of potential jurors who said they would be reluctant to convict anyone of drug possession, under any circumstances, and also a lot of people who seemed reluctant to believe a police officer over a homeless person. But eventually they filled the jury with people who would probably just listen to the cop and find the homeless guy guilty.

I never got called up, which was disappointing because I had pulled up the definition of "jury nullification" on my phone and was all ready to make a little bit of a scene when the lawyer gave me the shpiel about how we all swore to uphold the law, even if we didn't personally agree with drug laws. I knew I would have been eliminated immediately but I wanted to tell all the other jurors and potential jurors about jury nullification, which everyone ought to know about.

Backslider (#819)

There's another issue at play here. New York has too many cops and they need to look busy. While politicians are happy to spout off about so-called do nothing teachers, indolent and useless, protected by tenure, no one will ever suggest cutting cops. We're besieged by nearly 40,000 armed men and women, most of whom have nothing useful to do. So they go to poor neighborhoods and arrest people for nonsensical charges.

Los Angeles, which is not known for enlightened police treatment of minorities, has about 15,000 cops to cover a city with a comparable population spread out over a much much bigger area. I think it's safe to say that New York City could cut 10-15,000 police officers and still have plenty of uniformed personnel to harass innocent young black men.

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