Stop and Frisk has long divided New Yorkers who disagree over what constitutes appropriate policing strategies in the protection of city streets from violent crime. In some neighborhoods where these practices are nothing short of commonplace, activists are as fired up as ever in their efforts to reform local law enforcement.
The polarizing Stop and Frisk program has been a topic of major contention in the city recently as its use by the New York Police Department has increased exponentially over the last several years. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has forcefully defended the practice, saying that the stops “save lives” by “preventing violence before it occurs, not responding to the victims after the fact.”
Still, many critics argue that the program is ineffective and violates civil rights. They also claim that it disproportionately targets racial minorities.
According to data compiled by the New York Civil Liberties Union, 41.6% of all stops made in New York City 2011 were of black and Latino men between the ages of 14 and 24. By comparison, this group accounts for just 4.7% of the city’s population.
One group fighting against such inequalities is the Bronx Defenders, a non-profit organization that provides free legal representation and other services to Bronx residents who have been charged with crimes. The Defenders hosted a block party yesterday to engage community members in the issues facing the Bronx residents. Attendees mingled, played basketball, snacked on Italian ices — and learned about various services available in their neighborhood.
“Besides bringing together the local community, we want to let them know about the different campaigns we’re working with through our office,” said Patricio Martinez, a policy and communications development intern for the Defenders. “Particularly with Stop and Frisk, we’re working with several groups to stop racial profiling and start holding the NYPD accountable.”
He said these groups include NYCLU as well as campaigns such as Communities United for Police Reform. Representatives from both passed out literature at yesterday’s event.
Another Defenders volunteer, a long-time resident of the Bronx, first found his way to the non-profit not to help provide legal counsel, but to solicit it.
“I started as a client,” said former defendant Riko Guzman. “After that they helped me go to college. Then I came by and started helping out and offering my services.”
Guzman has been working for the organization since February.
“His story really shows what the Bronx Defenders are all about,” Martinez said.
Now, Guzman is determined to help put an end to Stop and Frisk policies, starting with communities in the Bronx. He outlined what he said are the three key goals of the movement to eliminate these kinds of police stops.
First, he said, is to once and for all eliminate racial and discriminatory practices in law enforcement.
Second, to politically empower areas classified by the NYPD as “high impact zones” — where there is increased police presence due to high crime rates — which Guzman claims are a target for Stop and Frisk because “the police think that nobody will care.”
Finally, he said, there needs to be more of a “mutual agreement” between cops and the residents of the communities they serve, in order to bolster trust rather than fear.
According to Guzman, another way for people to help combat discriminatory practices and racial profiling is to exercise their right to observe and report. For instance, he described a new app for smartphones that allows a user to videotape police encounters and to send the footage directly to the NYCLU.
“It automatically sends the video the second it stops recording,” Guzman explained, “so even if the police destroy your phone, it still gets sent to NYCLU.”
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