I Was the Subject of a “Stop and Frisk”

What the controversial policy feels like from the receiving end

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Spencer Platt / Getty Images

A New York City police officer stands in Times Square on August 12, 2013 in New York City.

It was just a regular Saturday morning in November, 2009, nothing special about it. Sunny, cool. Brooklyn had made its transformation from a wild Friday night to the calmness of an early Saturday.

As some took their dogs for walks, and others began their weekend workshifts, I embarked on a cross-borough bicycle trek from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Coney Island. The miles I’d put in would do my body good, I thought. But I would soon be reminded of where I was and the realities of where I live.

(MORE: The Real Signs of “Black Power”)

Not long after I started to ride, I noticed that the air in my front tire was low and I pulled off the street and onto the sidewalk. As I cruised to a stop, police sirens blared. I wondered if there had been an accident, if officers had to give chase to a robber or carjacker. But the squad car parked only a few feet from where I stood. I was in the middle of one of the most high-crime areas of the city, and I knew the cops weren’t approaching me to direct me to the nearest air pump.

Growing up in urban America, I’d long since acquired instincts about what to do when approached by the police. Keep calm. No sudden movements. Answer questions in a brief, but direct manner. Don’t get an attitude. Don’t become irritated. This isn’t to say that the cops are an enemy, necessarily. I’ve known and are still friends with many, many people in law enforcement who are decent people and save lives every day.

But still fresh in my mind at the time was the shooting death of Sean Bell, a black male killed by a NYPD officer’s bullet just hours before he was to be married. I’d written about that case, but I certainly didn’t want to have another journalist write about me.

“Do you know why we’re stopping you,” the young officer, a white male asked me. “Could it be because I’m riding my bike on the sidewalk, officer?” I responded. As calm as I tried to be, the officer still resented my tone.

The second cop, a black male with a Caribbean accent, approached me and explained something more complicated, and more jarring. He said that there had been a rash of purse snatchings in the area, done by people riding bikes and the victims had described someone who fit my description: a black male in a hooded sweatshirt.

It is now eerie how prophetic that was.

It then became very difficult to hold in my frustration. I’m basically as square as they come. Drugs? No. Criminal record? No. But since I’m one of many black men in that area who wear hooded sweatshirts, I fit the profile.  “Really?” I said in disbelief. “Yeah really,” the white officer said. His partner knew that since I was being calm, he may be able to diffuse anything from escalating.

The officers ordered me to show my identification and stand against the wall. Failure to do so could have resulted in a pat down and possibly an invitation to a suite at the 77th precinct. My record came up clean, and the white officer issued me a citation for the bike offense. I asked them why it was necessary to stop me for just riding on the sidewalk. The black officer, understanding my frustration, explained that it was an NYPD policy that I could be detained by police if they simply suspected I might have committed a crime, been in possession of something illegal, or was holding an illegal weapon.

Enough was enough. “Officers, I’d like your names and badge numbers, please. I have the right to ask for it.” The first officer seethed, knowing I was right, but finding it uncharacteristic in this neighborhood. Both of them complied and I snapped photos of their badges with my cellphone. The black officer advised me to consult my city councilperson to address the policy and they then let me continue my journey. While on the bike path, I did my best to forget what happened, but vowed to fight the ticket.

(MORE: What The NYPD Really Needs: Polite Police)

Today, my case is probably one of the less complicated stories regarding the policy. I’ve had friends who spent time in police cars and even in a precinct cell only to be released after it was determined they were clean. What a waste of resources and taxpayer money. So when a federal judge in New York said that the NYPD’s “stop, question, and frisk” policy is unconstitutional, it struck me that maybe someone figured out that the way to reduce crime isn’t by harassing people on bicycles.

Months later, I won my case and got the ticket for riding my bike on the sidewalk dismissed. The cops didn’t even bother to show up to court. It would have been a waste of their time.

19 comments
davidhoffman
davidhoffman

Change your attire. No more hooded sweatshirts. Wear a proper hat. 

destroyerkahn
destroyerkahn like.author.displayName 1 Like

I'm having some trouble with this one.  On the one hand, it seems intrusive (unnecessarily so) that he was targeted by the police.  On the other hand it seems appropriate (if you believe their purse-snatching story).  I think the best part was asking for the names and badge numbers - that makes it certain that if impropriety occurred, it was at least documented and able to be pinned on the correct assailants.

karate
karate

cowardly police. their families must be so ashamed, but somehow i doubt that.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@karate and what do you do for a living hero?  stay home and collect welfare checks. Oklahoma is a perfect reason why stop and frisk is a good idea, # black punks out to find whitey and kill one for the fun of it. I did not hear Eric Holder or his buddy in the Oval office comment on a real hate crime murder, or was Rev Al and his big mouth, one sided double standard racism. You notice whites to pull out the race card and protest and boycott OLK.

tdavis001
tdavis001 like.author.displayName 1 Like

I understand exactly how you feel. Sometimes I wish there was a week when everyone had to experience being a different race. There's nothing like walking in someone else's shoes to help you really understand their perspective.

Can't believe some people think you "fit the description." Well how tall were they? What was their build? How light/ dark were they? What sort of bike were they riding? Would it be logical to have a flat tire and stay with the bike if you were committing crimes? Wouldn't you want to jump off that bike and    sprint away as rapidly as possible?


Some people are such idiots. Unfortunately a lot of them wear badges. People really need to think things through.

I am sorry for your experience. I wish these kind of things wouldn't happen. They attacked your dignity, and made you out to be something you are not. 


That is plain wrong.



Openminded1
Openminded1

@tdavis001 There are two sides to every story and most of time 3 sides so do not buy everything you hear or read. Only a bleeding heart liberal does that.

George286
George286 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Dude, this was not stop and frisk, you fit the description and were riding illegally on the sidewalk to boot: probable cause  And for that matter even with the negatives of stop and frisk it has demonstrably saved about 7,000 young male black and Latino lives over the past several years, maybe yours, by making it risky to carry a gun.  Still, we can't abandon the 4th Amendment and people should be treated with respect.  Annoying yes but beyond that just suck it up as a collateral victim of the response that needs to be taken to a dangerous neighborhood.

j45ashton
j45ashton

I didn't see a 'frisk' but I did see "ordered me to show my identification and stand against the wall."  So what's the point of the stop?  Think about it.  The police run a check.  One of two results come back.  No record or a record.  Let's say there was a record.  So what?  Doesn't mean this person did anything wrong now or lately.  What could the police action have been?  The police generally have a right to stop someone if they're actually doing something suspicious that is part of committing a crime or could lead to committing a crime.  I don't like it but I see people riding on the sidewalks all the time & the most the police usually do is tell people to get off & not do that.  So the implication of Madison Gray's story is that the police feel free to go on fishing expeditions in certain areas.  Chances are they were at least looking for a parole violation.  We've been hearing about police quotas for years.  Ray Kelly's denials don't cut it.  Most New Yorkers feel that there are quotas and the police do what they can to meet them.  I'm not against NYC police.  I'm a supporter.  But give anyone enough authority, and there's always the potential to go too far.  The names of Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo shouldn't be forgotten.  It was no accident that those nightmares occurred under Giuliani.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@j45ashton and the nightmare in Oklahoma where 3 black punks killed whitey for the fun of it, stop and frisk would have been good there. Where is big mouth Rev Al in this case a real racist hate crime that that T. Martin crap which was not murder.

sixtymile
sixtymile

@j45ashton Once again (often noted before on these pages) it seems that Time authors and headliners are entirely separate functions. The words "Stop and Frisk" occur only in the headline (styled by a headlliner to attract attention -- it worked) and in the writer's reference to the policy, nowhere in the events he wrote about. And yes, really, it was "stop for any reason however lame and look for any excuse to frisk". It was a "Stop and Frisk" police action.

groundzro
groundzro like.author.displayName 1 Like

I must have missed the frisk part in the article. Did they empty out your pockets or just pat you down?

BlueDuck
BlueDuck like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

You admit that the cops were looking for a bike -riding black male, wearing a hoodie. Doing what they're paid to do, they pulled you over, as you fit that description.  It may have been inconvenient for you but they were doing their job. What is inconvenient is you riding your bike on a sidewalk reserved for pedestrians. BTW, the ONLY reason you beat that ticket is because the cops failed to appear.

JasonDStanfield
JasonDStanfield

@BlueDuck The police are allowed to lie to you...  how easy is it to say they were looking for someone of that discription... they would say that for every person they want to stop...
stop being so naive. 

Openminded1
Openminded1

@JasonDStanfield @BlueDuck And what the suspects never lie, claim they where out for a walk to buy some skittles and not thinking of committing a burglary. wake up moron.

BlueDuck
BlueDuck

@JasonDStanfield @BlueDuck It's called "reasonable suspicion" or "probable cause."  Mr. Gray, in his article, says the police were looking for someone who "fit his description." The cops would have been negligent in their duty had they not investigated. To assume that the police would stop every person is silly. 

WalterPinkmanHyzenburrg
WalterPinkmanHyzenburrg

That sucks, man. You've a good attitude though; calmly asking for badge #s is EXACTLY the thing to do.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

What I found interesting about the "stop and frisk" policy is that it was demanded by conservatives who thought they could stop crime before it started and they thought that it was a great idea because it profiled people who aren't typically conservatives.

Then they found out the NSA was doing exactly the same thing and said it's "unconstitutional".  Apparently, the difference between the two is that stop and frisk mostly targeted non-whites while the NSA's stop and frisk targeted everyone pretty much equally.  The conclusion there is that it's not unconstitutional when you don't target conservatives, but it is if you target conservatives along with everyone else.

Great consistency there, conservatives.  Not great logic, though.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@DeweySayenoff there you go dewey race card BS , Do you think the 3 punks in Oklahoma that killed whitey where not racist. They admitted to killing whitey for the fun of it. I see they did not kill a black man, i also noticed no comments from big mouth Al or the other racist in the white house. Double standard racism you think? I also see no white race card crap and protest, or anyone boycotting Oklahoma, where is K West now?

ronjr
ronjr

@DeweySayenoff Pitiful comparison. Stop and frisk may not work, but at least it is known that it is done. The same can't be said for NSA's secret spying.