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.