On Monday, federal judge Schira Scheindlin ruled that New York City’s controversial stop and frisk policing policing policy was unconstitutional and amounts to "indirect racial profiling" because officers regularly stop "blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white."
A lot has been said about how this ruling will impact the city's crime rate. Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed to continue the tactics for as long as the judicial process would allow. "I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a lot of people dying," he said.
Less has been written about the human toll these stops take. The vast majority of those questioned are innocent of any wrongdoing, and opponents of the policy have argued that it alienates the police from the communities where it's needed most.
Communities United for Police Reform wants to shift the focus. The coalition of groups from across the city, funded by $2.2. million in grants from George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, used the data that the police department was required to make public in order to craft a case against the stop and frisk policy.
They also emphasized the very real effect that stop-and-frisk has on people’s live. This week, the group is releasing a series of short films about people from the communities where being stopped and frisked is a part of life, especially for young men and boys.
In one of the films, the Rev. Samuel Cruz of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, talks about the effect he sees on the lives of his parishioners. "When you’re stopped on the street and you’re thrown against the wall for no other reason than you know you’re black or Hispanic, it creates a sense of hopelessness," he said. "No matter what I do, I am being constantly treated as if I’m not worthy of this society. And I know as a pastor that that destroys the spirit."
In another short, Kasiem Walters, a high school student in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, talks about how he has been stopped and frisked seven times. It has made him fear the police rather than look to them for help. When he was robbed himself, he says, he didn’t call the cops because he was afraid of getting them involved.
"I think the police’s job is to get to know us," Walters said. "To make us feel like we can go to them. To make us feel like when we see them, we don’t have to walk across the street. … When you look around you should feel safer when you’re a cop, you shouldn’t feel like you’re a target. And I think that’s the main goal, that we should feel like citizens of New York and not criminals.”
Cruz puts it this way: "Poor people and people of color want safety as much as anyone else in this society."
Top image: Demonstrators hold signs protesting stop and frisk outside of Manhattan Federal Court in New York, March. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)