Fighting for a New York where being young, black, gay and “dancing under the influence of Beyonce” isn’t treated like a crime
The New Civil Rights Movement is pleased to publish this important op-ed by guest author Annette Dickerson, Director of Education and Outreach at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) about the NYPD’s notorious “stop and frisk” practices.
Today the New York City Police Department goes on trial. After more than a decade of stopping and frisking literally millions of New Yorkers, the tables have been turned and the NYPD will have to account for its actions. Floyd v. City of New York is a class-action lawsuit, brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, that charges that the stop-and-frisk program is racially discriminatory and unconstitutional. While 53 percent of New York City’s population is Black and Latino, 87 percent of those stopped are Black and Latino.
Police are stopping people not based on reasonable suspicion that they have done anything wrong, in other words, but because of who they are. Legally, the case is about the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race (among other things), and about the Fourth Amendment’s ban against unreasonable searches and seizures. But in the bigger picture, it’s about what kind of city we live in: one where the police treat entire swaths of the population as presumptive suspects, or one where all New Yorkers are treated as equally entitled to walk the streets of their city without being harassed.
It is not just black and brown New Yorkers who are affected. LGBT people young people, poor people, Arab and South Asian people and Muslims are also targets. And it is often at the intersection of communities that the oppression of stop and frisk is most felt. Last year theCenter for Constitutional Rights documented the experiences of various New York communities at the hands of the police, including LGBT communities. “I know I can get arrested just for walking the street,” one woman told us. “’Cause if I’m walking with my friend, they just assume I’m a prostitute, that I’m a sex worker, or just because I’m a Hispanic transgender woman, because of my gender, I can just get arrested.” These and other stories are collected in our report Stop and Frisk: The Human Impact.
The struggle to end abusive policing is an old one, and the movement specifically to stop stop and frisk has grown tremendously in the last decade. The legal effort to end unconstitutional stop-and-frisk practices is only one part of the work. CCR is part of Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), a coalition of dozens of organizations doing grassroots work to bring accountability to the NYPD. Among the coalition members, several focus on aiding and advocating for LGBT youth of color.
Chris Bilal, a community activist, blogger and staff member at one of those organizations, Streetwise and Safe, was stopped by the NYPD, together with some friends, last year while dancing in Marcus Garvey Park.
Three officers, flashlights drawn, began questioning us for no reason at all, and demanding that we produce identification, again for no reason at all. Surely dancing under the influence of Beyonce isn’t probable cause to believe any crime has taken place.
After a bunch of vague questions disconnected from real pretense…the officers were then curious about what was in our bags. Now, I have been trained not to consent to unlawful searches like this, but I actually offered them my bag just so their intimidation would be short. I learned early that when someone is robbing you, it’s best to quickly give them the money and not put up a fight. I didn’t want to end up the young black shooting victim mourned on someone else’s blog. As the experienced person between a person who wanted to exercise their rights and the people who find joy in taking them away, I chose to err on the side of caution and begged my friends to give them their bags so we all could go home that night.
I breathed a personal sigh of relief that I wasn’t carrying condoms on me that day. They could have used them as justification to take us all downtown, like they do so many other gay people of color in the city, on some dumb charge of loitering for the purposes of prostitution.
After it became clear that we were being profiled as sexual deviants because we were three young black gay men in a Harlem park, we left, humiliated in our own community….But I still believe that parks should be where people go to be free, have fun and not be harassed by police for simply dancing.
This is the New York Floyd is challenging, one were young people are profiled, humiliated, harassed in their own community for being black or gay or both. You can read more about the case on CCR’s website.
This piece marks the beginning of a series of articles that CCR is contributing to The New Civil Rights Movement about their legal work, which addresses some of the most important civil rights and civil liberties of our time. We send our deep thanks to Vince Warren, the Executive Director of CCR, and his talented and dedicated staff.
Annette Dickerson is the Director of Education and Outreach at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
We invite you to sign up for our new mailing list, and subscribe to The New Civil Rights Movement via email or RSS.