How Cops Turn 'Stop and Frisk' Into 'Stop and Arrest'
Justice-reform advocates want young black and brown men to avoid being tricked by police into emptying their pockets.
Roughly a third of the marijuana arrests are legitimate, Rhee says. The remainder result from racially driven stop-and-frisks for which there is no legal "reasonable suspicion" that a crime has been committed. "A cop approaches a young man of color: 'Where are you going? Where are you coming from? Why are you hanging out on this corner?' " she adds. "Cops can stop people, but there are legal thresholds ... [Otherwise], you have the right to walk away.
"If you're a young person of color, of course, you have to use common sense," she continues. "You have to scope out the dynamics and the landscape. The real test is to ask the officer, 'Am I free to go or am I being detained?' If he says you're being detained, that there's a specific suspicion of an illegal activity ... there's a form they have to fill out, listing a whole series of stuff they have to check off. It can't be just a hunch that a person has done something wrong."
The DPA's Sayegh says that his office has sought but obtained no official meetings with NYPD higher-ups regarding this issue. What has been made clear by police officers attending meetings at the precinct level and through New York City's network of community boards is that many officers are wholly unaware of the 1977 law, Sayegh says.
Based on that law, it's not uncommon for New York City district attorneys to throw out some of the cases. But those are the exceptions, according to Sayegh. Marijuana arrests, he adds, are an easy means of making what he argues is a per-officer arrest quota.
Various studies have shown that white men are the heaviest marijuana users, Sayegh says. And that makes the illegal arrests in New York City a clear case of racial injustice. "What we're seeing in New York City is, far and away, a worst-case scenario: 500,000 marijuana arrests in the last 10 years," he says. "Particularly as it relates to stop-and-frisks that focus almost entirely on communities of color, there's an ongoing debate as to the propriety and effectiveness of [those arrests]."
Because NYPD is the nation's largest police department, the changes it adopts often tend to set a kind of national standard, he adds. And that might influence change in other municipalities where communities of color are deliberately targeted for certain kinds of low-level, but no less detrimental, arrests, Sayegh explains.
The IJJRA's Rhee says, "If you really are concerned about young people and the choices they make -- whatever your opinions on marijuana use -- what the NYPD is doing is not the way to go about it."
Katti Gray is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based freelance writer.