The ongoing trial of NYPD’s stop and frisk tactics has been fascinating to watch. There was truly dramatic testimony from young men who had been stopped and frisked on numerous occasions and the effect it has had on them psychologically. The testimony illustrated well the real world, real life effects of the stop and frisk policy.
We usually only hear about a stop and frisk that escalates into a physical confrontation ending in the injury of a civilian (most often) or a police officer (sometimes). This of course is one of the grave dangers of the stop and frisk tactic, that when a police officer comes into a forced physical contact and detention of a civilian, you greatly increase the risk of injury to citizens and police. This is especially true when there was just no reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk the person in the first place and when a person has been illegally stopped on numerous occasions.
So this trial is doing the very important public service of shining a light on what an “ordinary” stop and frisk does to the psyche of a person. Now multiply those young men’s experience by millions of our fellow citizens, and you might start to get an idea about the insidious effect stop and frisk has on our city and our society.
Case in point, we just settled a small case, a black woman in her late 50s named Florida Dennison; she walked out of her apartment building to go to the store down the block. She acknowledges that drugs are a problem in her Brooklyn neighborhood. As she walks down the street, two plain clothes officers jump out of a car and stop her. They ask Ms. Dennison where she is coming from and where she is going. They demand her identification and run a warrant check. Then they search her, head to toe including removing her wig.
Finding nothing, the cops wrote her name in a small notebook and drove off. The detention lasted about 5 minutes. No big deal? The City certainly seemed to think so. But these sorts of stops have an impact far beyond the few minutes of being detained. Her blood pressure shot up, her heart raced, she still wonders why they wrote her name down, and she was humiliated by having her wig removed in public by two men. She used to be thankful for the police presence on her block, given her neighborhood’s drug problem. Now she wants them out, more fearful of the cops than the drug dealers.
When you multiply this by the hundreds of thousands of stops and frisks that happen every year to ordinary, innocent folks who just want to go about their business on a normal day, you realize the toll this takes on our City. The unnecessary stress it puts on people. The health implications. The soured police community relations. It is madness, and we all need to support the incredibly important litigation that is happening to put a stop to the practice.