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Policing the police: Knowing our rights

By W.A.T.E.R. 17
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — A number of people are exercising their civil and human rights and ensuring that the democratic system is being put to proper use. This past Sunday, volunteer activists across the city distributed informative literature to the masses in an effort to educate others and heighten awareness about their rights, while simultaneously endorsing a petition drive that supports this cause.

“They have to allow us to move about peacefully in our streets; we’re not in South Africa under apartheid, where we have to show our IDs every five seconds,” concurred the people’s councilman out of Brooklyn, Charles Barron. “This is our basic human right and they are violating that.”

Each U.S. citizen has the right to privacy as specified in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, homes, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrant shall be issued, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be searched.”

But statistics reveal that Blacks and Latinos, are disproportionately subjected to stops and frisks by the NYPD.

“Last year there were 740,000 people who were stopped and frisked; 87 percent of them were Black or Hispanic and 88 percent were innocent,” revealed Raquel Irizarry, and organizer for Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), who tabled at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park with three volunteers.

“I know that police harass people, but I have never seen it like this—never, never. In 2002, when [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg first took office, there were only 97,000 stops—there’s been an increase by 600 percent! I was like, ‘Whoa!’ That’s when I knew I had to get involved,” Irizarry said.

Having accumulated over 11,000 signatures so far, PROP organizers are almost at the halfway point of reaching their goal of 25,000 supporters by next summer, to “demonstrate to policy makers that a broad-based constituency of city residents are concerned about abusive police practices and are calling for meaningful change,” one pamphlet read.

“We spoke to many young Black and Brown men about their rights, getting them information about how to get involved in the movement to prevent stop-and-frisk and other abusive police tactics,” commented organizer Frank Lopez, a coordinator from Brotherhood-Sister Sol. “It’s about educating the youth.”

Organizers also recorded some local residents who shared their negative experiences with New York’s finest.

“Racial profiling … criminalizes a whole generation,” asserted one supporter. “The real reason they’re doing this is to have a file on as many young Black and Latino men as possible.”

Although volunteers said they were well received, many interviewed said that they had also been victims of abusive police practices. Some recounted horrid tales of their encounters.

“We, as American citizens who are living in a democracy, deserve accountability. It’s not even just about stop-and-frisk—that’s a smaller issue in terms of a larger scope. There’s no accountability for the NYPD; they answer to no one,” concurred PROP activist Ayisha Irfan.

She continued, “We are promoting the community safety legislation that is in front of the City Council at this point. We deserve answers…we deserve a transparent police department where we can see what the policies are and make changes. Bloomberg and [Police Commissioner Ray] Kelly continue to lie and distort data. We strongly feel that something needs to be done.”

A recent conversation with an NYPD source disclosed, “Stop-and-frisk is nothing new…before it primarily happened to Blacks and Latinos who went into white neighborhoods, but now it’s happening citywide because they want them to get frustrated and move out.”

PROP director Bob Gangi said, “The city’s police should serve and protect people, rather than engage in stop-and-frisk and other tactics that harass and, in effect, criminalize them.”

Some say fulfilling quotas seems to be the NYPD’s main priority. They say it cannot be done at the expense of those who don’t know their rights.

“We cannot allow them to get us into a stop-and-frisk argument when the real question is racial profiling,” stated Barron.

While the damaging emotional and psychological effects of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy may never be properly measured, some say more and more that the Empire State is truly living up to its moniker.

“Commissioner Kelly must be fired. Kelly must go.” said Barron. “Not only has he allowed for racial profiling, which is against our human and constitutional rights…in addition to that, there have been more police killings and brutality under Kelly…We have lost our lives, our communities have been turned into police states and the police are off the hook and out of control!”

He concluded, “Over 700,000 people were stopped, questioned and frisked, which led to only 12 percent actually getting arrested and less than 2-3 percent having a gun. That is based upon the statistics of the police officers who filled the forms out. Only one out of every 10, according to Elliot Spitzer when he was attorney general, and he did the investigation, which means millions of us are being stopped and frisked and it’s not bringing crime down!”

For more information, visit policereformorganizingproject.org.

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