A new audio recording reveals a disturbing example of current NYPD practices, specifically the “stop and frisk” policy of stopping and searching pedestrians without warrants or probable cause. A 17-year-old named Alvin, who made the recording, explains in the video below that he had been repeatedly stopped and searched by the police for no apparent reason and so had decided to record the next incident. Upon being asked why they are stopping him, the officers on the recording explain that his offense is “looking back at us like that” and “being a fucking mutt.” They then threaten to slap him in the face and break his arm.
The full audio recording is available at The Nation.
The NYPD’s numbers report that the department stopped and frisked 684,330 people last year, which as the Wall Street Journal points out, was “14 percent more than in 2010 and about seven times the number in 2002.” City officials claim the program is effective in reducing crime and getting guns off the streets. However, the New York Civil Liberties Union disputes this, pointing out that less than 0.2 percent of the stops yielded any guns, and approximately 88 percent of the stops did not result in arrests or even citations.
One aspect of the stop and frisk policy, namely the “Operation Clean Halls” program, is ostensibly aimed at drug dealing in and around low-income apartment buildings. The tactics are now being challenged in court, with Assistant District Attorney Jeannette M. Rucker testifying that people are being arrested on trespass charges for being in or around buildings which they actually live in or where friends they’re visiting live.
The tactic also seems to facilitate arrests on marijuana charges. In 2011, there were approximately 50,000 arrests made in the city for minor marijuana possession. This is despite a New York state law, which since 1977 has essentially decriminalized possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana. Under this law, the offense is only punishable by small fines or up to 15 days in prison if it is the individual’s third such offense within a three-year period. A new lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Society claims that people are being illegally arrested on minor marijuana charges, sometimes for “public display” of marijuana, which is a criminal offense carrying up to 90 days in prison. Attorneys suggest, however, that the “public display” often simply involves defendants in stop-and-frisk encounters being ordered by police to empty their pockets.
This seems to be not only an attempt to get around the decriminalization law, but also in violation of the recent directive from the city’s Police Commissioner criticizing such practices. Governor Cuomo also introduced legislation earlier this year to remove the “public display” loophole, but the proposed measure did not pass.
As marijuana possession is generally a private activity, which goes mostly undetected without intrusive practices by the police, the stop-and-frisk program is likely responsible for the bulk of these unnecessary arrests. The solution seems obvious: the city should simply abandon the stop-and-frisk program, thereby saving a great deal of time and money, not to mention sparing innocent New Yorkers needless harassment.