Crime / Parks

Local efforts strive to end stop-and-frisk

Photo by Daniel Bejarano

A mural near Hunts Point Riverside Park urges citizens stopped by police to document the stop.

Advocates argue NYPD tactics are heavy-handed, target minorities

By Daniel Bejarano

Three murals painted by Hunts Point artist Sharon De La Cruz on The Point’s river campus on Edgewater Road, encourage passersby to document their interactions with police.

The murals, inspired in the message “Know Your Rights,” as one of them says in pink, yellow and purple cartoon-like text, are approximately nine feet tall with different widths. They were painted in vibrant colors; a blood orange tone prevails as background in the three compositions. In one mural, a young man, with what appears like kids’ silhouettes behind him, is taking a photograph, and a hand is writing a message in the other.

Painted last month, the murals are part of a campaign some citizens have launched against the New York Police Department’s stop and frisk policy. The campaign, led by the group Communities United for Police Reform, wants the City Council to end the policy and impose civilian oversight of the NYPD.

Under stop and frisk, more than 684,000 New Yorkers were stopped by police last year, told to produce identification, patted down and had their pockets searched. Eighty-seven percent of those searched were black or Latino, according to data released by the Police Department as part of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Police call it an effective crime prevention technique and point to continued reductions in citywide crime rates. Neighborhood activists and many law abiding people who are routinely  searched while walking on public streets call it racially motivated harassment.

Graffiti artist De La Cruz, 25, who’s also program director of the youth political organizing group A.C.T.I.O.N. at The Point CDC, acknowledged that crime and delinquency are problems. But she thinks there are better ways to fight them.

If authorities want to prevent crime and get the young community off the streets, they have to get them engaged through community programs,” she said. 

Organizations like The Point could use state and federal money to get young people engaged in creative and community projects, she suggested.

Instead, she said, young people are alienated by being treated like criminal suspects when walking the streets of their neighborhood. 

Oppressive behavior becomes normal. One sees it every day. It’s the reality of the neighborhood,” De La Cruz said.

Yulsan Liem, an organizer with People’s Justice Campaign, one of the groups working with Communities United for Police Reform, said the mural is an attempt to fight the criminalization of youth.

“You can schedule workshops and reach out in other ways, but murals communicate the information directly,” she said.

On March 9 Bronx members of The Freedom Party, a left-leaning political party that ran a candidate for governor last year, rallied against the policy outside the Supreme Court building on the Grand Concourse. Protestors shouted, “Ray Kelly must go. Borough President, where are you?”

The party demanded elected officials defend their civil rights, step up for their community’s safety and take action against what they called the prejudiced strategies and killings by the NYPD.

Almost everyone at the rally had been subject to stop and frisk. Khafani Nkrumah, a criminal defense attorney and a retired police officer who is spokesman for the Bronx Freedom Party was stopped while walking his dog, he said.

John Luciano, 27, wasn’t at the rally, but he is all too familiar with stop and frisk. Luciano, who works in security, said Hunts Points’ reputation for crime means police patrol the streets more heavily.

It’s natural to be stopped if you walk where there’s prostitution,” he said. He’s been stopped multiples times. “I’m used to it. It doesn’t bother me now. But I would like that to stop,” he said.

Hunts Point resident Jason McNeil, who was stopped last year in the neighborhood for allegedly blocking traffic on the sidewalk was more upset.

“As a law abiding citizen you get caught in the cross fire of the police,” he said.  “The police have to learn how to work with the community.”

McNeil said that if people distrust police because they’ve been harassed by police they will be less likely to report actual crimes, which will make the neighborhood less safe.

An analysis of NYPD stop and frisk data by the Center for Constitutional Rights revealed that from 2005 to 2008 a weapon was found in fewer than 1 percent of stops.

“Regardless of race, an average of 97.6 percent of stops made by the NYPD from 2005 through the first half of 2008 resulted in neither weapons nor contraband yield,” stated the report.

According to the latest 41st Precinct crime report, there has been a reduction in crime of 2.67 percent in the past 11 years. In the 20-year period leading up to 2012, crime fell by over 50 percent in Hunts Point and Longwood.

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